Monday, June 1, 2009

My Secret Shame: Confessions of a Republican Wannabe

On a site like Open Salon, it's often assumed one is a Democrat. I'm not. I'm an Independent. I do admit it's hard to tell the difference sometimes, but is that my fault? The Republicans seem never to offer me a credible alternative.

Of course, you could make the claim I should be checking out the Green Party or the Libertarian Party. Nice try, but no dice. There are a couple reasons for this. First, I'm old enough to have thrown away my vote on third-party candidates before; been there, done that. Voting on principle is nice, and I'm all for changing our voting system to use preference-order voting, but absent that, I'll vote where my vote can make a difference, thank you.

And, frankly, I think the thing that holds these third parties back is their stubborn insistence on principle. Principles are great, but as I discussed in The “Two Unprincipled Parties” System, it's the unprincipled nature of the Democratic and the Republican parties that keep them in active contention. That nature allows the parties to dynamically adjust their platform in order to respond to changes in public sentiment. Contrast this with the Green Party or Libertarian Party which are wedded to ideas and hence incapable of changing in order to acquire more votes.

There are occasions where I've gone so far as to call myself a “Republican Wannabe,” not because the Republican Party of late (by which I'm afraid I mostly mean “within my lifetime”) offers much of anything I'd ever “want to be” but because the words the Republicans often say they are about don't sound bad. I wish there really were a Republican Party that was about small, fiscally responsible government that cares about personal liberty and privacy. They sometimes spout such words, but their actions don't match, and I just can't bear it.

I did actually vote for Bill Weld, a Republican, to be Governor of Massachusetts. He was socially liberal, compassionate, strong on crime, and fiscally responsible. A good mix, I thought. But, alas, not typical of what the Republican is selling these days.

Also, my desire for small government is not dogmatic in nature. So while I liked how Jesse Ventura borrowed from Lincoln in saying that government should only do for people what they can't do for themselves, I find it's not always so easy to say exactly what people can and cannot do for themselves.

For example, it might seem that health care is something people can arrange for themselves. But I've watched health care play out over a lifetime, and it's clear to me that health insurance has gone from a well-meaning pool that protected people from unknown health risks to a cynically and scientifically run system that tries to most efficiently separate people from their money, maximizing profits while minimizing its own responsibilities. Saying health care is something people can do for themselves depends on whether you just mean that there are insurance policies for sale or whether you mean that people have a legitimate and compassionate set of choices. So just because I favor small government over large doesn't mean I favor it for arbitrary reasons; there are a lot of reasons to suppose that the smallest workable and fair government really does need to address health care, and to believe that this cannot be left to the individual.

So please don't assume when I say I'm for small government that I mean to say I oppose some particular set of issues. What I mean, rather, is that if all other things are equal, I prefer small to large. But sometimes small doesn't work, and I'm open to discussion on some matters that others might not be.

What I want from the various parties is to provide me a different perspective about how to think about problems. I want options I can evaluate freely without regard to where they came from. I assume that the very different perspectives of each party will provide me with a rich variety of options. What I care about is workability to really solve the stated problem, not some idealized notion of a problem. And there are two things that really catch my eye a lot with Republican options: First, they seem to go out of their way to be mean-spirited and to make life miserable for people who are just trying to get by—they're forever trying to sell their policies by demonizing someone, and in the process they often don't actually solve the problems they set out to solve. And second, their solutions are often very fragile. They work really well if you make the right assumptions about the people involved, the order in which things happen, etc., but they leave people helpless if they deviate even a little from the norm (often, but not always, a norm characterized by being economically well-off, healthy, white, straight, male, and Christian).

The Republicans say they're about family values, but that turns out to be code for something much more sinister. To me, family values means something that promotes the notion of people helping people, of people treating each other kindly, of people within a family loving one another, of people wanting children to grow up happy and healthy. But many gay families pass this requirement and yet are shunned by the so-called party of family values.

The Republicans say they're about fiscal responsibility, yet they orchestrated the worst economic catastrophe in the history of the world. And why? Because they effectively enshrined the notion that “greed is good,” a claim that is so obviously ridiculous it's a wonder it wasn't laughed out of the room the moment it was first said. But, of course, people who desperately want to believe a selfish thing will find themselves highly motivated to stretch in what they are willing to believe.

The Republicans say they're about the Constitution, but when attempts are made to enforce privacy rights or free speech rights, we find them making exceptions. In fact, I honestly think that before the neocons took over the party, the Republican Party really was about this one. And there are a few lonely voices even now within the Republican Party that pay lip service to this issue. But when push comes to shove we see party line votes on matters that do not uphold free speech and privacy rights.

I really just don't like the idea of aligning with a party; I fear the notion of “toeing someone's party line.” I like independently evaluating issues on their merits. When I voted for Weld in the Massachusetts primary, I was going to be out of town and had to vote absentee. To do that, I had to declare a party and was temporarily a Republican for a few weeks near the election. I recall worrying that I would die in an accident and that my tombstone would read “he died a Republican.” So maybe it's not fair to say I actually want to be a Republican. But I do covet the issue space that the Republicans allegedly care about, and I do think they're falling down in their duty to offer me options that fit in that space.

I refuse to give in and simply call myself a Democrat. I continue to hold out the hope that the Republican Party will surprise me one day with good ideas that will give my preferred status as an Independent a legitimate sense of identity distinct from being a member of the Democratic Party. But some days keeping that hope alive is like trying to keep a candle burning in the winds of a hurricane.

Here I sit, trying to decide what I think of Judge Sotomayor. In spite of her being the clear choice of Obama and the Democrats, I'm really quite annoyed by that controversial ruling Judge Sotomayor has written about controversial free speech rights of school children, the one Paul Levinson has written extensively about. The details of that ruling trouble me a great deal. I'd like to ask her a great many questions about it.

But even as I'd like to consider the ruling, and the candidate, with an independent eye, I have my television tuned in to all kinds of ridiculousness from the sitting Republicans that once again threatens to embarrass me if I go that way. I am incensed about the petty set of things the Republican Party has chosen to make into talking points, stupid issues that are not at all good reasons not to make this woman a Supreme Court Justice.

Quiet down, Republicans. I can't figure out if this candidate is a good choice for the Court, but if you don't stop saying completely idiotic things in opposition, I'm going to feel driven to side with her merely because you have once again made it utterly unpalatable to ever even consider the possibility of an opposing point of view. For once, please don't be your own worst enemy. Just once, I'd like to feel I had a choice.

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Originally published June 1, 2009 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, republican, independent, democrat, republican wannabe, own worst enemy, shooting itself in the foot, republican party, sonia sotomayor, sotomayor, supreme court, court, justice, appointment, supreme court justice, candidate, bill weld, jesse ventura

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