Like most of the Twitter personalities I’ve profiled to date, I haven’t known Corie Whalen for a terribly long time…probably about a year. But we have become good friends…even though, at one time, I was afraid we might not reach that point, if she really knew me.
Corie and I had followed each other on Twitter for a while and I had observed that, especially in discourses on social issues, she was (as you’ll note here) assertively libertarian, and quite outspoken about it. Before CPAC this year, when many of us in the center/right political activist community across the country met for the first time, I sent Corie a message. Naturally, I don’t recall the specific verbiage, but it was tailored along the lines of, “I need to let you know I enjoy communicating with friends across a broad spectrum of beliefs, but I’m a social conservative. I’m both pro-life and pro-traditional marriage.”
I needn’t have suffered any qualms over a potential severance of communication. Corie’s response was swift and unequivocal. As long as I was willing to dialogue, even in disagreement, she would be, too. I met Corie a couple of weeks later. Both then and in the ensuing months, I have found Corie to be true to her word.
As I’ve recounted this behind-the-scenes narrative, I see striking similarities to my experience becoming acquainted with another libertarian friend I profiled a few weeks ago, George Scoville. In both instances, we disagree on some basics, but my horizons have been broadened by exposure to viewpoints somewhat divergent from my own, but with a shared limited government base. This has, for me, affirmed a foundational truth: Honest assessment of all facets of any given issue will never be rendered if we fail to respectfully listen to opposing perspectives. We’ll often still disagree, but we may also be pleasantly surprised at how our philosophical frontiers are expanded in the process.
She is relentlessly brilliant and tirelessly focused on the fight to preserve the liberty to flourish and the freedom to prosper that is the trademark of the United States. I can appreciate that in anyone, but I value it in a kind and affirming friend like Corie Whalen.
10 Questions for Corie Whalen
1. You’re the second feature in this series who definitely tilts more libertarian than conservative. How does that work out in real terms in your philosophical worldview?
As my Twitter bio says, I feel conservative around libertarians and libertarian around conservatives. Realistically, that tends to turn into me being a Republican, but voicing very critical opinions of the party when deserved, and not just blindly supporting someone because of their GOP affiliation. Although I am more libertarian than conservative, man, when I hang out with hardcore libertarians, I legitimately feel like a statist Republican hack. There are major philosophical differences between anarchists and libertarians, but sometimes, people who are effectively the former identify as the latter. In those cases, I may as well be a leftist in comparison, seeing as I’m a constitutionalist in practice (which, within the libertarian spectrum, essentially makes me pro big government). Even though I’m not particularly socially conservative and would never vote on those issues, I respect that others are and do. I just tend to think that social issues are best hashed out on the state and local level, because a one size fits all solution for culture problems just isn’t going to pan out on a national level in this country. Overall, being a constitutionalist in practice, I believe that anything not specifically meant to be dealt with on the federal level should be brought to the states. I guess you could call me a “tenther”. 🙂
2. If I understand correctly what I know of your bio, you grew up in Massachusetts, but you’re now a Texas transplant! What happened along the way?
I’m originally from Ashland, Massachusetts, which is a suburb 20 miles west of Boston. My parents, Don and Jill, still own the house I grew up in. I was raised with my sister Jamie, who is 22, and my brother Tim, who is 18, just about to graduate high school, and will be attending Brown University in the fall. There’s no doubt in my mind that growing up in Massachusetts helped cultivate my serious interest in American history, which in turn strongly affects my political views. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been extremely fascinated by the subject. The fact that my Dad is also a history buff who took me to see many of the different Revolutionary War era sites I grew up around certainly aided in solidifying my passion. I remember in 4th grade, my class had to memorize a paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, and to this day I can recite it, because even at a young age, I was touched by the genius inherent in the document and never forgot the passage that begins with, “We hold these truths to be self evident”. That same year, I got a 100 on an early American history test, and from that day forward, it became by far my favorite subject in school.
I’m often asked how I avoided becoming a liberal, being from Massachusetts, and it’s a valid question. Most Massachusetts residents do get sucked into the vortex! But, for me, since I was well acquainted with American history before I learned about modern politics, my allegiance was to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I understood well the delicate genius of the separation of powers, and had always known instinctively that authoritarianism was bad. I remember when I was very young, probably about five or six, my Dad was talking about Fidel Castro and Cuba. I was curious, so he started describing to me the form of government that they had there. He said that no matter what someone’s profession was, nobody was allowed to make more money based on their skills and hard work. I remember thinking through what that meant, and drawing the conclusion that such a society would yield very few doctors. I’ve always been VERY anti-statist.
As a result, by the time I started learning about things like the New Deal in high school, I was suspicious due to prior years of self-education. I’ll never forget the fact that growing up going to a Massachusetts public school, I was taught FAR more about the New Deal than I ever was this country’s founding. Retrospectively, knowing that the Massachusetts Teacher’s Union and the Democratic Party are one in the same, it makes perfect sense.
In a way, I know my tendency toward intellectual rebellion and challenging the status quo in a state full of Democrats helped solidify my decidedly right-wing views as I learned more about contemporary politics. Instinctively, I knew I wasn’t a liberal, despite the fact that I considered myself one socially when I was young. For a very long time, I thought I was a moderate, because I knew I was for smaller government despite my social tolerance, but didn’t know of the term that would reconcile my views best: libertarian.
As time has gone on however, I’ve definitely trended in a more conservative direction, considering where I came from. Even socially, I’m more conservative than I used to be, mainly because I don’t think that the issues should be dealt with on a federal level, nor should government promote or subsidize cultural ideas and programs, as liberals believe. I’ve also become more open-minded and less stuck in the holier-than-thou east coast elitism that used to come naturally to me.
When I was in high school, if you told me I was ever going to leave the Northeast, I would have said that you were completely crazy. I romanticized the concept of east coast big city living to the point where I decided to go to college in New York City. Retrospectively, there’s only one reason I’m thankful I chose Wagner College. I met the love of my life, Rob Stephens, at the age of 18. We were both political science majors, and THOSE people in class. You know, the obnoxious smart kids who always answered all of the questions, to the point where professors refused to call on either of us.
I was a second semester freshman, and Robbie was a football scholarship junior year student. We had three classes together, and were innately connected before we knew each other’s names. I’ll never forget sitting in class in February of 2006, thinking, “I should find out who that guy is.” I listened during attendance, looked when he raised his hand to ‘Rob Stephens’, and, you guessed it, friended him on Facebook (back when it was only for college students). Without skipping a beat, he sent me a very long Facebook message, and our correspondence, which followed through me replying via a handwritten letter in class the next day, soon blossomed into what has been my foundation ever since.
The fact that I ended up in Texas has a lot to do with Robbie. I don’t think either of us would have left the east coast without each other. Together, though, it eventually made perfect sense. But, along the way, we did end up in Boston. For my junior and senior year, I attended Simmons College and added my second major and first love, history, and Robbie enrolled in law school at Suffolk University. We moved into our first apartment, a closet sized 5thfloor walkup in Boston’s North End in August of 2007, and it was around the same time that I first started to get actively involved in politics.
Without having even so much as considered volunteering for a political campaign, I learned in May of 2007 about a Congressman named Ron Paul who was running for President, and, perhaps too fast, unaware of some of the crazier people I’d meet along the way (you know, the very vocal minority), dove into supporting him. I was charmed by the fact that he would tell people that his platform was the US Constitution – and actually mean it. I became heavily involved in the Ron Paul Boston Meetup group, and was eventually the primary organizer of the “Boston Tea Party Freedom Rally”, an event held at Fanueil Hall in Boston in support of the record breaking money bomb for Ron Paul on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, which was held on December 16th, 2007. I was a bit embarrassed by this interview and speechfor about a year or so after the event (it was my first public speaking event), but now, I look back on it fondly. It’s so awesome retrospectively that now-Senator Rand Paul was there with us as a keynote speaker, before his rise to fame.
After living in Boston for two years while I started my foray into politics, our third year together in Massachusetts was spent in the quaint little coastal town of Hull, home of Nantasket Beach. I miss it there sometimes, but only in the summer. While living in Hull, we our dog, who, being the nerds we are, is named after the father of the Constitution, James Madison. Maddie is a brindle boxer, and despite the fact that she isn’t entirely well behaved, I love her to death.
Our move to Texas, which occurred in August of 2010, was inspired by a desire we both started exploring in mid-2007. Robbie and I decided that we were, in fact, not only willing to leave the east coast, but actually quite desirous of doing so. We weren’t terribly keen on the whole leftist propaganda machine we had experienced together at Wagner, and were even more offensively subjected to at Simmons and Suffolk. We also dislike snow!
In July of 2010, one month before our lease in Hull was up, and one month after Robbie had graduated from law school, I was offered a job with American Majority as a Field Representative in Houston. That enabled us to move down here, and for Robbie to start studying for the Texas bar exam (which we FINALLY found out last week that he passed!). Unfortunately, American Majority had to make some cuts back in February, so I no longer work with them. But I do work part time for many organizations now, including the one addressed in your next question!
3. You hired on with Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) not too long ago. Tell us about your duties there.
Yes, I was hired on by @YALiberty to work part time as their South Central Regional Director this past February. What that means is that I’m the point of contact for pro-liberty YAL student groups in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, and that I work to help direct and grow new chapters in my region. YAL is a perfect fit for me, because it was as a college student that I became politically active, and I know how important it is to get a libertarian/conservative message out on campus when so often, colleges are echo chambers for socialism. I firmly believe that a lot of students who are sucked into leftism are actually more libertarian than they think, and having a group like YAL active on campus helps to bring another perspective into view. YAL’s existence at colleges across the country creates MANY converts who end up seeing the light, and it’s extremely exciting. It’s true that millions of young people got excited about Obama in 2008, but frankly I can’t blame them for being disillusioned with the Republican Party, either. The GOP of our childhood was largely a socially intolerant, big government boondoggle. We missed out on the Goldwater and Reagan years, but are now helping lead a revival of the limited government philosophy that permeated the discourse in the days before the GOP lost its way. YAL is a great organization. In fact, this past April, our chapters accomplished our biggest national activism event to date, called “Visualize the Debt”, where YAL members created massive debt clocks to display on campus, using them as a conversation piece to get fellow students thinking about the perils of big government, and how spending money we don’t have will have a massive negative impact on the future of our generation.
4. If you had to name a couple of the issues that have led you in a more libertarian direction, what would they be?
As an advocate of small government, I think it’s extremely inconsistent when someone says that they are for freedom and liberty, but then believe it’s proper for the federal government to restrict people’s peaceful actions and to be a purveyor of morality. You might think, based on that statement, that I’m for legalizing all drugs, or am hardcore pro-choice. Actually, I’m neither; and am particularly conservative on the drug issue because I think it affects more than the person using – but, I don’t believe that enforcement on the federal level, or “The War on Drugs” are practical solutions. Similarly, I’m anti-Roe v. Wade. However, the one matter where I’m libertarian, likely to the point of being obnoxious to some, is on equality for gays. Growing up, I had many friends who eventually ‘came out’, so my view on the matter is undoubtedly affected by having experienced that journey with them.
One story in particular has colored my opinion on the matter most heavily. I had a good friend in high school who came from a very traditional Catholic family, and was religious himself, with many conservative beliefs. When he finally came to terms with the fact that he was gay, I was with him every step of the way during the painful, almost year long process of hiding it from his family – and eventually telling them. He wrote his parents an extremely heartfelt letter, expressing the fact that even though they likely thought that him being gay meant he had abandoned God, that quite the opposite was true. He, in fact, had consulted and was comforted by God through the struggle, and hadn’t abandoned any of his core beliefs. I remember the day my friend left the letter on his parent’s kitchen table. He packed his bags and had headed to his boyfriend at the time’s house, assuming he was going to be completely disowned by his family. Luckily, even though they never directly acknowledged the issue, his parents didn’t kick him out, but to this day, they avoid confronting the issue directly. I cried when I read that letter back in 2003, and would likely do so again if I went through my old emails and dug it up. He was never one to express emotion like that, so it really stuck with me.
That’s why, although the two of them drive me crazy with their hardline foreign policy views, I’m a big fan of Chris Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia of GOProud. They are working within the Republican Party to change the public’s perception of the GOP as being vehemently anti-gay, and are unapologetic for it. As a national board member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, an organization that works to elect libertarian leaning Republicans, I identify with and advocate their approach of working within the GOP to create the change they want to see.
Ultimately, the one area where I really just can’t have a discussion without getting emotional on the issue is the “being gay is a choice” debate. I’m sorry, but I saw my friend’s struggle, and know of what so many others went through. It’s NOT a choice. To me, that position comes from ignorance, and I just don’t have any tolerance for it. Undoubtedly, it’s where I’m most hardcore in my libertarianism, so I try not to have the debate at all. 🙂
The other issue that leads me to a more libertarian direction is definitely foreign policy. I thought it was wrong to invade Iraq, and believe that the more we keep to ourselves, the better. Contrary to popular belief, however, this doesn’t in any way make me an ‘isolationist’ (just as not liking someone I disagree with doesn’t inherently makes them a ‘neocon’ – I hate when my fellow libertarians throw that word around as an insult, because it diminishes its legitimate philosophical meaning).
What I’m not, however, is anti-war, or a pacifist. In fact, I’m extremely pro-defense, seeing as I’m a constitutionalist. As I wrote on Facebook the night our incredible Navy SEALS captured Osama bin Laden: “If tonight has taught me anything, I’m now more clearly seeing the divide between libertarian leaning non-interventionists, and hardcore anti-war pacifists. I’m the former, and we’ve been lumped together because of the hardline neoconservative positions taken by our government post 9/11. We have some things in common, but we aren’t 100% the same – despite what those who call us all ‘isolationists’ might say.”
5. Warning: This is a tailored-to-you version of the main beef I always express to my libertarian friends! I know you well enough to know that you haven’t turned your back on the GOP completely. To that end, your thoughts on this: Isn’t it fundamentally unfair to level the accusation that Republicans, at the end of the day, are no better than Democrats?
I think it’s unfair to level the accusation that the Republican and Democrat parties are the same – but, there are certainly some individual Republicans who are, in my mind, just as bad as Democrats. I believe in working within the GOP, as evidenced by my work with the Republican Liberty Caucus, because there’s no doubt that the GOP’s base is unhappy with the big government direction the party has taken in recent years, and that the GOP is ripe for change. I do believe the tea party, a movement I’ve been involved with heavily since its inception, is helping us trend in a better direction.
I’d say that I’m pro GOP overall, anti-Democrat overall, but also anti many individual Republicans. I hold the view that a bona fide big government Republican (think Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, or even John McCain) is actually more of a threat to liberty than a big government Democrat, because people are offered a false alternative that denigrates conservatism. That being the case, I’m 100% for trying to elect GOOD Republicans. To me, there’s nothing more important than primary season.
6. Who are 3 figures on the political scene today that inspire you and give you hope for the United States re-emergence from its current malaise?
That’s too easy – and not coincidentally, they’re all tea party oriented freshman Republicans. Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mike Lee, and Congressman Justin Amash. The three of them have done wonders in regards to helping redefine conservatism after an era of the word losing its meaning amidst rapid government growth. Regarding hope for the future, I’m especially fascinated with Justin Amash, who just recently turned 31, and is the only federally elected official to explain every single vote he takes in real time on his Facebook page. I won’t get into it here, but I do suggest you read my profile on Amashat the Republican Liberty Caucus’ blog when you get a chance. He gives me a great deal of hope for the future, which is nice, considering the fact that I’m susceptible to intense bouts of pessimism.
7. What are your favorites in the following categories: Books, Music, Films, Foods (throw in a couple more hobbies/fields of your own, too)?
My favorite movie is “Good Will Hunting.” I always loved that movie, but like it even more now for sentimental reasons, because Robbie and I watched it together on April 18th, 2006, our anniversary.
Other movies I enjoy include Closer, Garden State, Tombstone, all Clint Eastwood movies (I love westerns), Pride and Prejudice, Fight Club, Boondock Saints, There Will Be Blood, and many others, but those are the notable ones. Frankly, I need to watch more movies. It’s something I always mean to do. Maybe I should get off Twitter every once in awhile!
Books. I literally hoard books. Robbie has a Nook, but I’m into reading old school. Probably because I like to write in the margins and argue with the author. (Apparently, this is something John Adams also did, which I learned reading the fabulous biography on him simply entitled John Adams, by David McCullough). Although I’m mostly into non-fiction primarily because of my politics and history fetish, there are many novels I love. My favorite of all time is East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. Despite that agnosticism of mine, I do love religious symbolism. Other novels I enjoyed were The Birth of Venus and Anthropology of An American Girl (definitely girlier books), Cane River (historical fiction), Pride and Prejudice (which I actually did read on my iPhone) and of course, I adore George Orwell – both 1984 and Animal Farm. I’m also really into poetry. I used to write a lot when I was in high school, and still do a bit, but particularly love reading it. My favorite poet (who I also love as a philosopher) is T.S. Elliot. As for some of my favorite non-fiction, I love The Tea Party Goes to Washington, by Rand Paul, Meltdown by Tom Woods, The Law by Frederic Bastiat, America’s Great Depression by Murray Rothbard, The Summer of 1787 by David O. Stewart, America Alone by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke. Honestly, I could go on forever, but that’s a pretty good list. Also, if you’re really into the history of the conservative movement and can deal with a dense, philosophical book, I highly suggest the book I’m reading right now: The Conservative Intellectual Movement In America Since 1945 by George H. Nash.
Music wise, I’m such a big lover of so many artists, and have a very diverse taste that ranges through virtually all genres. My favorite artists of all time, however, are Billy Joel, The Eagles, Bob Seger, Jason Mraz, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Damien Rice, John Mayer, The Goo Goo Dolls, Toby Keith, Third Eye Blind and a little known band that no longer exists called Averi. If you want a more comprehensive list, check out my Facebook page.
8. Are you a person of faith and whether yes or no, how does either the presence or absence of religious belief impact your life and what role should religion play in the public square?
I’m going to be perfectly honest. When you asked me to do this profile, I knew you were going to bring this question up, and I struggled for awhile, as a person who works in politics, with whether or not I was willing to address this publicly for fear of being judged by my conservative friends. I never discuss this matter because truthfully, I wasn’t raised in a religious family, so I just don’t have that foundation. Background wise, my mother comes from a Jewish family, and my father, Catholic, but I wasn’t remotely raised in the tradition of either.
Despite that however, I’m an extremely moral person, and the reason I’ve never disclosed that I don’t actively identify with any one religion is because I fear that people will assume I somehow lack a moral compass, when nothing could be further from the truth. When so many people I knew growing up were out sleeping around (which I certainly don’t judge, because I’m all about personal choices and what makes people happy), I waited, knowing that even though I wouldn’t be the type to save myself for marriage, I only wanted to be with one man. I am proud to say that I HAVE fulfilled that promise to myself. I’ve been with Robbie for five years, and we’ve lived together for almost four, as I touched upon above. We’re that couple who has essentially been married since day one, and hopefully we’ll be able to make that a reality soon seeing as he’s now able to pursue applying for real legal jobs!
As for my philosophy on the matter though, now that I’ve disclosed that I’m essentially an agnostic, I should say that I’m very pro-religion, and am particularly fond of the Catholic Church. I’m not one of those people who goes around being offended by religion at all. In fact, if anything, I’m offended by those people! I think expressions of faith enrich society and should never be banned in the public sphere. I fear that the left, really following Marx, has gone out of their way to conflate “respecting an establishment of religion” and full out banning any public expression of religion in relation to government. There’s a huge difference between the government allowing, or even advocating for general religious expression, and the government favoring one religion or sect over others in an official capacity. There’s nothing wrong at all, in my mind, with things like “under God” being in the Pledge of Allegiance.
I have to say, one of the reasons I’m even comfortable discussing this at all is because I’ve seen the positive reception S.E. Cupp has received as a conservative commentator, despite the fact that she goes so far as to identify as an atheist. To me, there’s a major distinction between an atheist and an agnostic, and I’m the latter because I admit to not knowing at all. Given that I’m naturally spiritual, and believe there is most likely a higher power (I just don’t know what), there’s no way I could say I don’t believe in God. I just don’t claim to know exactly what that means. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the older I get, the more pro-religion I become. I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve spent five years with my soulmate. Let’s see how being with Robbie for the rest of my life affects me in this regard moving forward. 🙂
9. How do you feel to date about the GOP field, both definite and tentative, for 2012?
It could definitely be better, there’s no doubt about it. Watching the first debate, I was literally horrified with Rick Santorum (to me, he represents the GOP that the tea party and the nation are rebelling against), am also unimpressed with Tim Pawlenty, and worried about Herman Cain’s many unknowns. (I also dislike Romney and Gingrich. Can you say establishment?) As much as I like Gary Johnson personally, I don’t think he’s presidential material at all. Frankly, Governor Johnson’s performance in the debate made Ron Paul look like a mainstream Republican, comparatively. Ultimately, as someone who got involved in politics because of Ron Paul, I lean toward supporting him again – but I’m also acutely aware of his shortcomings. He doesn’t always have the best political sense when it comes to his presentation (what little he had was bequeathed to his son Senator Paul via genetics), and certainly, his age is a factor. If Mitch Daniels does enter the field, however, he’s someone I’d be open to. (I know you like him too, Glen!)
10. As a fairly young activist in the center-right movement, what do you hope you’ll be doing in 10 years?
Seeing as I escaped going to law school (thank god retrospectively – I almost went), I do hope to continue working in the political field. No matter how many times I try to stop, I’m compulsively addicted. I seem to have a natural aptitude for it, and I think my passion for and knowledge of history plays into that pretty substantially. My biggest goal is to find candidates capable of replicating the successes of my three aforementioned favorites: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Justin Amash. Frankly, that’s part of why I enjoy working with YAL. Even though I have to weed through the mire and deal with some people who are anarchists, morally against voting, etc (which is fine – to each their own), I’ve met some incredible potential future candidates with the political sense to understand that working through the GOP is the best venue for success. If I can spend the next decade helping to groom and elect the future leaders of my generation, whether through @YALiberty, @RLibertyCaucus, the tea party movement, or whichever road I travel down next, I’ll be more than satisfied.