The Little Mr. Conservative
SITTING in the back seat of his mother’s van as she drives through Atlanta suburbs, Jonathan Krohn is about to sign off with a conservative radio talk show host in Florida. In the 40 minutes he’s been on the air, with the help of his mother’s cellphone, this hyper-articulate Georgia eighth grader has attacked the stimulus bill, identified leaders he thinks will salvage the Republican Party’s image, and assessed the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
The show’s host chuckles and asks whether President Obama has called Jonathan “a little fascist.”
“The president hasn’t come after me yet,” Jonathan says chummily, “but we’ve had other people come after me!”
“Jonathan!” his mother hisses from the driver’s seat.
The interview concluded, Jonathan wistfully handed his mother her cellphone. His parents still won’t let him have one, even though he turned 14 last Sunday, right after he became an instant news media darling and the conservative movement’s underage graybeard at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
The annual convention brings in the movement’s grand old lions, like Rush Limbaugh, as well as cubs to rally 8,500 of the faithful, who were shaken by the election of Barack Obama. Jonathan, a slight, home-schooled only child whose teeth are in braces, is so passionate about his beliefs that he spent his summer writing “Define Conservatism,” an 86-page book outlining what he says are its core values. In January, he contacted CPAC organizers, asking to speak there.
With some skepticism, they gave him a spot on a Friday panel of grassroots activists. But Jonathan, an experienced child actor, rocked the house with a three-minute speech, which was remarkable not so much for what he said, but his electrifying delivery. The speech was part pep talk, part book promotion. By Saturday morning, an archdeacon of the movement was saying, “I’m Bill Bennett: I used to work for Ronald Reagan and now I’m a colleague of Jonathan Krohn’s!”
As video of the speech coursed through the Internet, radio talk show hosts and television reporters at the conference sought him eagerly.
In less than a week, Jonathan appeared on “Fox and Friends” and CNN, and broadcast network anchors requested interviews. He has lost count of the number of radio shows he has spoken on. Though his family has received hate mail, accusing them of brainwashing their son, a Jonathan Krohn fan club has sprung up on Facebook. High honors: Jon Stewart has already poked fun at him.
And the invitations have only snowballed since the family returned to their modest house in a subdivision here.
Why just that morning, his mother, Marla Krohn, marveled, a staff member for a potential candidate for Georgia governor asked for a meeting with Jonathan. In her gentle drawl, Mrs. Krohn said cautiously, “I’m not sure I’m a supporter of his.”
“Neither am I,” Jonathan piped in.
“But I’m a voter,” Mrs. Krohn reminded him firmly.
Jonathan retorted, “Now that I’m a political pundit, I have the ability to influence people. I have to think about it!”
But first, his mother reminded him, he had some homework to finish.
He’s an unusual kid with an unusual background. Jonathan’s parents, Doug, a computer systems integrator, and Marla, a sales representative and former actress who teaches drama and speech to middle-school students, have been home-schooling their bright, curious son since the sixth grade. On Fridays, Jonathan joins 10 middle-school students at the Classical School in Woodstock, where classes are taught from a Christian perspective, for five hours of study, including Latin. They have two 10-minute recesses for tag, said Jonathan’s teacher, Stephen P. Gilchrist. Lunch is eaten at their desks while they work.
“Other children his age are not quite sure how to take him,” Mr. Gilchrist said. “Jonathan is so intense, so verbal and a strong personality. But as they get to know him, they respect him for what he is. And he is tons of fun.”
Jonathan’s father oversees his math; he studies Arabic with a tutor.
“Before I got into politics,” Jonathan said as he sat with his parents in the study of their home, “I wanted to be a missionary to people in the Middle East. I thought it would be better to speak with them in their own language.” The family are active members of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Norcross, Ga.
That was several careers ago. But he is sticking with Arabic, because, “it’s important to talk with our allies in their language.”
Although the Krohns are conservative, they say Jonathan’s passion for politics is largely his. “Politics bore me,” his mother said flatly. “I’ve learned a lot from Jonathan about the candidates I’ve voted for.” Doug Krohn said he listened to talk radio, but with his Iowa-born soft-sell manner, he’s hardly the pontificating firebrand his son is.
Jonathan said he became a political enthusiast at 8, after hearing about a Democratic filibuster on judicial nominations. “I thought, ‘Who goes to work saying, ‘I’m going to filibuster today?’ ” he said.
Mr. Krohn, looking bleary-eyed by recent events, muttered, “And now he can filibuster with the best of them.”
Jonathan would wake up at 6 a.m. to listen to Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” show and became riveted by politics and American history. Soon, Mr. Bennett, whom Jonathan now describes as, “my mentor and very good friend,” was taking Jonathan’s calls.
“Jonathan was an extraordinary boy, very special,” Mr. Bennett said, in a phone interview. “He wowed my audience, he wowed me. He’s very engaging and learned. He’s got staying power.”
Last spring, as the presidential campaign was in full roar, Jonathan decided the term conservatism was so misused that he needed to write a book explaining it. He received a computer from his maternal grandfather for his 13th birthday. “In the Jewish culture in which my mom was raised, 13 is a big deal,” he said. “But since I’m a Jewish Christian, I don’t do a bar mitzvah.” (Decades ago, his mother became a Baptist.)
Although the family said they hired an editor to go over grammar, Jonathan, they said, wrote the book himself. “My mom would get tough,” Jonathan said. “She’d say, ‘If you don’t stop writing now and go outside and get some exercise, I won’t let you finish this book!’ ”
The family said Jonathan paid to have the book published with his own savings, earned from writing and performing on a syndicated radio Bible show for children.
His father made a spreadsheet of their contacts for publicity, and then Jonathan went to work, glad-handing. He already had developed poise, as he put it, “during the 20 or 30 productions I was in during my acting career” — he’d performed in Christian Youth Theater plays and regional shows.
But as Lisa De Pasquale, director of CPAC, noted, he is still a kid.
“He seems to at least have a historical perspective,” she said. “But at 13, there’s not a lot of life experience yet. But as he attends more conferences, he’ll have more ammunition and education, and see that there are more than black and white viewpoints.”
Jonathan also sees room for improvement: “I have good voice inflection, that’s why I’m good on radio,” he said “But on TV, I look too big because I move my hands around a lot.”
He still has the zeal of a missionary. His voice rising to a wobbly squeak, he grabs any opening to press the cause. “Barack Obama is the most left-wing president in my lifetime,” he said.
Mr. Krohn buried his face in his hands. “Oh, Jonathan,” he sighed.