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Jonathan Tolins

Jonathan Tolins

Posted April 22, 2009 | 05:30 PM (EST)

And a Child Shall Lead Them


There he was, standing at the podium at CPAC, dazzling die-hard conservatives despite the fact that he is a member of a group not usually favored by Republicans. No, not Michael Steele. I'm talking about Jonathan Krohn, conservative wunderkind and theater geek. (I use the term with great affection, being one myself -- "theater geek", not "conservative".) But this theater geek doesn't get taunted in gym; this one is invited to appear on Fox and Friends. Adorable and untainted by the last eight years of Republican failure, he is the answer to a conservative's dream.

I've watched the clip of the precocious thirteen-year-old's CPAC address several times now. I can't get enough. I know that kid -- a smart, effusive, eager-to-please adolescent who thinks he knows everything and has no trouble lecturing adults. Heck, I was that kid... albeit in the liberal Long Island, Jewish variety. If Krohn's delivery felt like an address from the president of the Drama Club, that's no accident. From his bio on his website, www.defineconservatism.com:


Jonathan Krohn is a 13 year-old home schooled young man who has been performing on stage since he was eight. Inside Edition's Debora Norville named him "Atlanta's Most Talented Child" in 2006. Jonathan has had 3 call-backs for the Broadway part of Michael Banks in Mary Poppins.

(Oh, to be back at the age when you can claim credit for the jobs you didn't get....) Yes, he's a Broadway Baby. But in his search for a role model, Jonathan somehow settled on Bill Bennett instead of Nathan Lane. He listened to Bennett's radio program every morning for three hours, a fact that offers a revealing glimpse of the home schooling revolution.

Jonathan made a huge splash at CPAC (Arianna called him "the highlight" of the convention) and this could be only the beginning. After sending Bobby Jindal out to address the nation, as Paul F. Tompkins described it, "like a loving dad reading a bedtime story to a baby with a severe learning disability," the GOP could now brand itself as the party of children. Not children's issues - like health care and education - but a child's view of the world, unsullied by adult reality or experience. They won't address us just as children, but by children.

Here's young Jonathan on his blog responding to Obama's call for health care reform:


Uh oh! Here it comes... Obama is going to expand government's interference into your doctor's office. Government will tell you what you can and cannot get at the doctor's office. Obama, Dodd, Kennedy, Pelosi, Reid, and Biden, just a few of the people who will be out their telling you what you're healthcare benefits will be. President Obama has told us that he wants to boost the economy, but when he talks about universal healthcare all he is discussing is a government monopoly of the healthcare industry; meaning a loss of jobs and a major dent in the economy, not to mention policy commonly described as typical socialism.

What's striking here is not that Jonathan Krohn's writing sounds like standard-issue conservative punditry; it's that most conservative punditry sounds like the writing of a thirteen-year-old. The argument, in addition to being wildly inaccurate, fails to recognize that those of us lucky enough to have health insurance spend too much of our time fighting for the coverage we paid for. (When our daughter suffered from a simple case of croup, the insurance company claimed it was "a pre-existing condition.") Government regulation of an industry that has run amok and is determined to deny service whenever possible doesn't play as a scary specter of socialism. For a home-schooled thirteen-year-old not to recognize this is understandable. For a political party, it is a shortcut to irrelevance.

No wonder CPAC swooned. They've had a problem of late matching principles with experience. Small businessman Joe the Plumber and family values champion Sarah Palin are two obvious examples. Jonathan Krohn won't be victim to the same biographical contradictions. He's thirteen. He's supposed to have no experience.

I worry. The kid is already the most appealing conservative spokesman on the scene and he is ripe to be exploited. The questions will come. Did he really write that book by himself, "giving up his summer" to do so? Was it right for Krohn's parents to indoctrinate him so intensely in Republican thinking at such a young age? Should anyone be exposed to that much Bill Bennett? Are his parents just making a buck off their son's talents, pushing him like a right wing Baby June? (Last fall, he and Mom went on a book tour of northeast Georgia. The sky's the limit now.) And is this all because he didn't get cast in Mary Poppins? (Did rejection from the nanny musical lead to rebellion against the nanny state?)

I don't pretend to know what's really going on inside this bright young kid or who he'll turn out to be when he grows up. But it will be interesting to see if his ideological certainty holds up, particularly if he follows his passions for both conservative politics and musical theater. It won't always be easy (see "Eckert, Scott"). Will this budding Alex P. Keaton maintain opposition to the National Endowment for the Arts or gay marriage if it means fewer opportunities to play Boq in Wicked? Life will do its dirty work on Jonathan Krohn. If and when he emerges from his home-school-and-talk-radio cocoon, he will be challenged by people and events that stubbornly refuse to abide by his principles. And that could be the best thing that ever happened to him. Perhaps his already obvious gifts will enable him to forge a new conservatism, one that melds old principles with the realities of today and a keen awareness of the mistakes of yesterday (the way Obama did at his inaugural).

And who knows? Maybe someday this kid will make Republicans act like adults again.