The first reader question on our two-part in-depth profile on San Diego son George Gorton comes from reader JVT:
Why does he gravitate toward conservative politics? You can never judge a book by its cover, but come on … this guy sounds as liberal as they come.
Ninja camping at the age of 61? Is it the women in his life? I just cannot wrap my head around it.
This certainly came up in our reporting. It was brought up both by us in our interviews with Gorton and by his friends, colleagues and others who knew him. It’s one of those things that made Gorton such a compelling topic for a profile — the nexus between his personal and professional life seemed to contradict society’s stereotypes.
I’m so happy we got this question, as a matter of fact, because it allows me to include an anecdote that didn’t make it into any of the stories. It’s about Gorton’s first involvement in politics (notes courtesy of my colleague Kelly Bennett):
When Gorton was in eighth grade, a teacher had the students debate the 1960 John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon presidential election. She went around the class, assigning students a side to debate. Kennedy-Nixon-Kennedy-Nixon.
Gorton was designated to Nixon’s side and argued so convincingly a student asked him if he’d head a Young Republicans group.
“I’m not sure what would’ve happened if they’d said ‘Kennedy,’” Gorton told us. “Would I have been a Democrat? I don’t know.”
So that provides you a little insight into how Gorton got involved in politics. It certainly lends credence to those that paint political consultants as mercenaries, which is something Gorton had been referred to as in the past.
But it also foreshadowed Gorton’s milder personal politics. When you talk to him, he’s not dogmatic about conservative values or right-wing politics. He talks about politics as a business — how he goes about conducting an election, how he positioned certain candidates, what he did to pull off an unlikely victory. It’s not about policy. It’s about getting people elected. That’s his job.
As he says, he’s fiscally conservative and becoming more socially liberal everyday.
I thought this quote from his son, Steven Moore, summed it up nicely:
And Moore admits that the different sides of Gorton might not always seem to add up. But, he says, his father is driven by a belief in individual freedoms. “If you sit with George Gorton long enough he makes you see there’s a logical intersection between being a hippie wanderer and a free market champion,” Moore says.
And, I think it is buying too much into stereotypes to think that things like Buddhism and spirituality are a left-wing phenomenon. I hope it comes through in the story, but much of what Gorton was seeking in spirituality had to do with dealing with internal issues like anger, family life, happiness and love. Much more self-help stuff than political ideology.