Lincoln & me, experiencing DC

By Melanie Harmon (

    Editor’s Note: Melanie Harmon, a new contributor, submitted this piece Monday on Lincoln’s birthday. I met her as a DU undergrad when she testified in the Senate about radical faculty infringing academic freedom at Metro State, her former school. She later founded DU’s conservative student paper, Common Sense, and worked on the Holtzman for Governor campaign, before graduating in spring 2006. Welcome, Melanie – JA

Like most recent college graduates, I busted out of my cap and gown ready to conquer my next life experience: the real world. Four days after graduation, I moved to Washington, D.C. with two suitcases and lofty visions of what my life would be, post-University of Denver.

I chose our nation’s capital because I wanted to continue the conservative activism of my previous four years. I would be serving my country and the state of Colorado while sticking to the principles I knew to be good and right: personal and fiscal responsibility, little government interference, faith in God and faith in the American people.

Five months into my cross-country, real world experience, those lofty visions were promptly pulled back down to earth. The November elections taught me Lesson No. 1 of living in the real world: that life is chock-full of disappointments.

The Republican losses equaled personal disappointment. Many of the friends I had made were quickly gone, for they had lost their jobs due to election events. Lesson No. 2: working in politics is never a secure gig. Duly noted: we work in the conservative movement for the passion and the principle, certainly not for the security and definitely not for the money.

My job hunt in Washington can only be described as one of a conservative vagabond. Like many other young conservatives in Washington, I frequent the free events at The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, just hoping that my name will catch on somewhere. Although I have a wealth of job experience, compared to all those conservatives who just lost their jobs, I simply don’t match up. Post-elections, the conservative work force became a whole lot more competitive.

Despite the tumultuous job market, I managed to land a job at a libertarian-minded firm as a writer. But working there made me realize that my goals could turn out to be impenetrable. The vast difference between libertarians and conservatives is worthy of a separate discussion altogether. But what I learned is valuable Lesson No. 3: there is no job worth having if one must sacrifice one’s principles.

Thus, I left my job at the libertarian “wonk house,” as we say in Washington, but with my conservative beliefs intact and my dignity not sacrificed for anything, not even for a paycheck. My conservatism is as much a part of me as my brain and my heart.

Since arriving in Washington, I have often asked myself harsh questions and wondered if I had made the right choice in taking such a leap of faith on my ideology—and myself.

Which brings me to important Lesson No. 4: keep looking up to those who give you inspiration. I am blessed to have the National Mall just minutes from my front doorstep, and any time I feel like giving up on my lofty visions, I must remind myself of why I am here in the first place.

As President Lincoln sits tall and proud in his chair, looking over the city, those lofty visions all start coming back to me. Lincoln was the first Republican leader and stood up for what he believed to be good and right when it was highly unpopular and dangerous to do so. His sentiment echoes almost 150 years later, back to Republicans who may not be popular, but do what they know to be good and right. Lincoln’s bravery is something every young conservative should aspire to emulate.

As a young conservative in these arduous times of Washington, I am faced with many challenges. But with those challenges comes many lessons of which I am happy to learn. Things will not be getting easier any time soon, but what I do have are my principles to guide me through those times, and the leaders who inspired me to do it in the first place.