Three years ago, the conservative political world was wowed by Jonathan Krohn’s speech on the floor at CPAC, the country’s largest gathering for the conservative movement. In his speech, the 13-year old delivered a defense of conservative principles, which while perhaps a bit simplistic by adult standards, displayed a level of eloquence and conceptual understanding quite rare for an early teenager. The response was predictably enthusiastic; the video quickly went viral as conservatives embraced their new boy wonder” while liberals denounced him as “creepy“. Meanwhile, many spoke of the bright political future awaiting the new conservative Wunderkind, and it seemed that Krohn would soon find his home within the conservative movement.But in the years that followed, Krohn has changed his mind. Although he does not consider himself a liberal, his beliefs have shifted to a decidedly leftward bent and he can no longer watch his famous speech without cringing. As he told Politico:
“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.” […]“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.”
Many have already begun to criticize Krohn for his abrupt change of heart, but there is nothing surprising about what has happened here. Young people change their minds as they grow up — and that is exactly what they should do. Often, more than once.I tell my students that just as the person they are dating now probably isn’t the person they will end up marrying, so the political and social ideas they have embraced are not necessarily the ones that will stick. Youth is a time to date around before settling down, whether it comes to people or ideas; try a political viewpoint on for size, walk around in it for a while, see how it wears on you.It’s also worth noting that for young people — and for some older ones as well — ideology is something we pick for emotional rather than purely rational reasons. To embrace a certain political style is a way to say something about how you feel about your parents or your background. Again, it’s a necessary and useful thing for many young people to see what it’s like to believe the opposite of what your parents brought you up to think and to try different worldviews on for size.And if nothing else, the exercise will, hopefully, make you more tolerant and understanding no matter what your politics end up being.Generally, insofar as students come to me for political advice, I try to tone them down a bit. Young people are often in love with the clarity and purity of theory. This is partly because their minds, very sharp and fast at that age, can grapple with abstractions as well as any adult, so they can easily become competent and even dexterous with theory and abstract analysis. But they are short on experience and don’t really get all the exceptions and the maybes that come into play when theory meets the real world.Mr. Krohn hasn’t done anything wrong; not when he was 13 and said what he thought and not when he was 17 and changed his mind. On the contrary, by doing his best to think through the big issues of the day, he’s been doing exactly what someone at his stage of life should be doing. Via Meadia wishes him and the rest of America’s young people nothing but the best as they try to figure out what’s going on in this complicated world and what they should do about it.