Marla Krohn’s cellphone rang Tuesday, with a friend of 34 years on the other end.
“Have a nice life,” the friend said. It was a breakup call.
Krohn’s sin? Her 17-year-old son Jonathan, a former child prodigy of the Republican political circuit dubbed “Little Mr. Conservative” by the New York Times, had strayed into unforgivable territory.
That’s right. Last week, Jonathan Krohn declared, to the same national media that had marveled at him as a miniature Newt Gingrich, that he was something other than conservative. And that he was headed to New York University to study Friedrich “God Is Dead” Nietzsche and filmmaking.
It gets worse. Marla and Doug Krohn’s teenager, in full rebellion, has endorsed both gay marriage and President Barack Obama.
When a columnist called on the modest Krohn house in north Gwinnett County, the grieving mother bravely tried to face down the family calamity. “He’s my son. What am I going to do? Throw him out because he has a different view?” Marla Krohn asked. “His dad and I love him. We support him. I mean, you could have worse. He’s going to NYU. He got a scholarship. How many kids get scholarships for that?”
Surely, any parent who has been required to post bail will sympathize.
You might ask: What 17-year-old hasn’t wanted to publicly ditch the geeky 13-year-old that he once was? But the very question is proof that you didn’t witness the picture-perfect splash that Jonathan Krohn made at the 2009 gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, the premier annual gathering of GOP activists held in Washington.
Jonathan was Christian. He was home schooled. And he wowed the most important Republicans in the nation with a surprisingly eloquent, three-minute plug for the book he’d just written, “Defining Conservatism.”
There was something vaguely New Testamentish about an articulate boy coming to lecture the temple elders on the tenets of their beliefs. The C-SPAN video went viral, and the world of conservative media invested heavily. “Fox & Friends” became Jonathan’s best friends. Talk radio called nonstop. The boy became a featured speaker at annual tea party bashes at the state Capitol.
“You were a very nice young man in a suit,” I told Jonathan.
“I was,” he agreed. “And that was about it.”
We sat at the kitchen table in the Krohn household. Jonathan, in a T-shirt and shorts, with his hair grown into curls, now handles his own public relations. His mother had disappeared upstairs.
Jonathan recently graduated from North Gwinnett High School, but he explained that this wasn’t a rejection of home schooling. “I was there to get [Advance Placement] credits so I could be competitive in college.”
At least one thing about Jonathan remains constant. He remains an accomplished talker. Having a conversation with him is something like exchanging views with an opened fire hydrant. The words come out not in a stream, but a torrent of consciousness.
In a conversation that swam hither and yon, Jonathan said that his wandering from the traditions of home schooled conservatism wasn’t a surprise to any of his friends. “I’ve been saying it on Facebook for three years. But nobody wanted to listen to it,” he said. Then the Washington-based website Politico.com posted its catch-up piece last week.
It was 2009 all over again, but everyone had switched sides.
MSNBC, the liberal counterpart to Fox News, quickly congratulated Jonathan for his newly gained insight and invited him for a pair of interviews. Fox News ignored him. But the Daily Caller, the D.C. conservative Internet outlet, declared the 17-year-old to be a fraud and worse.
Many tea partyers have been forgiving, the teenager said, but others have been less so. “One guy said on Twitter, ‘You betrayed God and William Bennett,’” the teenager said — though we will omit the slur at the tail end of the 140 characters. “I love the equality there.”
Bennett, the talk radio host and former U.S. secretary of education, wrote the foreword for “Defining Conservatism.”
Jonathan said he was somewhat prepared for the harsh reaction. “There’s this ideological partisanship where everybody is put in their little bubbles — but if you leave the bubble just a little bit, you’re an evil, horrible person who deserves to be shot down,” he said. “I don’t want to be a part of that.”
“This is why social conservatism was the first real thing that left me, because there’s such a homophobic movement within the conservative movement. We’ve all seen it. It’s not like everybody’s a homophobe. I’m saying there’s a huge presence of those people, though,” the young man said.
Asked for specifics, Jonathan pointed to his 2010 return to the CPAC gathering in Washington, where GOProud, a conservative gay rights group, received a harsh reception. “Why would I want to be part of a group that shouts down people just because of their sexual orientation?” he asked.
Jonathan says he delved into modern philosophy as an escape from his bubble. “I don’t think I’m grown up,” he said. “I just think I’m more grown up than I was. I just didn’t want people calling me ‘that conservative kid’ over and over again.”
The one charge that stings is the accusation that, three years ago, he was no more than an actor reciting his lines. His mother teaches the craft, and he had some local stage experience before he hit CPAC.
“I was not acting a part,” he said. “I said stuff that I didn’t know enough about to believe in. I knew enough about it to say something. I didn’t know enough to have a conversation about it.”
A strange voice interrupted, a reminder that it might be unfair to ask a teenager to justify his childhood.
“Priority One message from Starfleet, coming in on secured channel.”
“Sorry. That’s what my phone does when I get a message from Facebook or something,” Jonathan winced, pulling out an iPhone with a cracked face. “Look at this. Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk on ‘The Avengers’ — he tweeted about it. I was able to get the Hulk seal of approval.”
The discussion shifts to the young man’s future career as a filmmaker. Yes, he has a screenplay in his pocket. No, he’ll never make a movie about a young 13-year-old who stuns a mammoth gathering of conservatives.
His family once received an offer to sell Jonathan’s life story. It was to be used as the basis for a sitcom called “Little Mr. Conservative.” They turned down the offer. “That would have put me in a box the rest of my life that I couldn’t get out of,” Jonathan said.
Then maybe, I ventured to the young man and his mother, who had now returned, Jonathan could be the next Woody Allen.
His mother shook her head at the exiting visitor. “I don’t like him,” she said.
And there are certain lines that a son doesn’t dare cross.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider