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CPAC's boy wonder swings left
Jonathan Krohn took the political world by storm at 2009's Conservative Political Action Conference when, at just 13 years old, he delivered an impromptu rallying cry for conservatism that became a viral hit and had some pegging him as a future star of the Republican Party.
Now 17, Krohn - who went on to write a book, "Defining Conservatism," that was blurbed by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Bill Bennett - still watches that speech from time to time, but it mostly makes him cringe because, well, he's not a conservative anymore.
"I think it was naive," Krohn now says of the speech. "It's a 13-year-old kid saying stuff that he had heard for a long time.... I live in Georgia. We're inundated with conservative talk in Georgia.... The speech was something that a 13-year-old does. You haven't formed all your opinions. You're really defeating yourself if you think you have all of your ideas in your head when you were 12 or 13. It's impossible. You haven't done enough."
Krohn won't go so far as to say he's liberal, in part because his move away from conservatism was a move away from ideological boxes in general.
"I want to be Jonathan Krohn," he said, "and I'm tired of being an ideology, and it's not fun and it gets boring and it's not who we are as individuals."
But a quick rundown of his current political stances suggests a serious pendulum swing away from the right.
Gay marriage? In favor. Obamacare? "It's a good idea." Who would he vote for (if he could) in November? "Probably Barack Obama." His favorite TV shows? "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." His favorite magazine? The New Yorker. And, perhaps telling of all, Krohn is enrolling this fall at a college not exactly known for its conservatism: New York University.
"One of the first things that changed was that I stopped being a social conservative," said Krohn. "It just didn't seem right to me anymore. From there, it branched into other issues, everything from health care to economic issues.... I think I've changed a lot, and it's not because I've become a liberal from being a conservative - it's just that I thought about it more. The issues are so complex, you can't just go with some ideological mantra for each substantive issue."
Krohn is bucking the received wisdom that people become more conservative as they get older, a shift he attributes partly to philosophy.
"I started reflecting on a lot of what I wrote, just thinking about what I had said and what I had done and started reading a lot of other stuff, and not just political stuff," Krohn said. "I started getting into philosophy - Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Kant and lots of other German philosophers. And then into present philosophers - Saul Kripke, David Chalmers. It was really reading philosophy that didn't have anything to do with politics that gave me a breather and made me realize that a lot of what I said was ideological blather that really wasn't meaningful. It wasn't me thinking. It was just me saying things I had heard so long from people I thought were interesting and just came to believe for some reason, without really understanding it. I understood it enough to talk about it but not really enough to have a conversation about it."
"I think I've just matured overall," he added.
The problem, for Krohn, is that he's still that 13-year-old kid in the eyes of many. And that, he says, makes him "absolutely annoyed."
"It really has gotten cumbersome having to go through the process of telling people what I've done over the past few years," said Krohn. "I've tried to tell people, but it's not as interesting, apparently. People don't want to listen to me tell them I've changed."
Those old memories sometimes come back to haunt Krohn, as when HBO's Bill Maher recently included Krohn in a biting bit about young conservatives.
"I have no problem with what Bill Maher said," said Krohn. "He's funny. But all these people took it seriously instead of a joke.... It hurt me in the sense that I was compared to some kid who said that Obama is turning kids gay. And that kind of stuff is what happens. I have to explain to people over and over and over again that I'm not a conservative and I have my own ideas and I'm not just agreeing to everything that every conservative said. It's very hard to break a stereotype like that of yourself."
"I've been trying to tell people," he added, "but it's a lot harder to get stuff out there when your mind changes on things because a lot of people who supported you when you're on one side of the issue aren't really going to help you get your changing ideas out there when people still think I'm that conservative kid. ... People don't realize I was 14 when I wrote that book. I'm 17 now. In terms of my life, three years is a long time in a 17-year-old's life."
Krohn's move away from conservatism posed two risks: First, the wrath of his conservative parents. (That was quickly and pleasantly overcome: "Neither of them were overjoyed, but it didn't really make a difference in their respect and love for me.") Second, the discarding of a surefire path to success within the conservative movement.
Krohn said that family and friends noted "all of the opportunities" available to him in the world of politics, but giving that up "didn't faze me because I really didn't want to do anything that would compromise my beliefs as an individual."
As for what's next, Krohn says he can't help but remain a bit of a political geek, but he'll never write a political nonfiction book again. Instead, he's hoping to spend his time at NYU studying philosophy and filmmaking, while occasionally writing political satire.
And that's what Krohn seems most eager to focus on: What's next. Not what's in the past.
"Come on, I was thirteen," he said. "I was thirteen