Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why I Switched Parties

"A lot of your readers think you're going through an identity crisis."

Someone said that to me a little over two weeks ago and I haven't been able to get it out of my head.  Call me whatever you want, but I am rarely accused of being uncertain about myself.  Nevertheless, it is a fair criticism.  The "perspective" (or pejorative "slant") of this blog has no doubt changed over the past three and a half years.  Being the one on this side of the keyboard, it has felt more like a shifting spotlight than a jump between boundaries.  I never suggest that my posts are unbiased (which would make for a terrible blog), but you all have a right to know what kind of "bias" is underlying my thoughts.  So I figured I would get this bit of navel-gazing out of the way -- I am a registered Democrat.

For most of my adult life, I have been a Republican.  Not just some dilettante Republican, or as more recently termed "Republican in Name Only", but a red-meat Republican.  I belonged to the Young Republican Club in both high school and college.  I interned with Vice President Dick Cheney in the National Energy Policy Development Group, becoming good friends with Chris Malagisi, who is a high profile young gun in the Party (Chris worked in the mail room sorting "Thank You's" from threats -- don't ever let him tell you differently).  In law school, I belonged to the Federalist Society and attended almost every meeting.  I have worked on three different Republican campaigns and contributed to many more.  I was your typical GOP foot soldier, rarely asking why.

But contrary to the Churchill quip ("Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains"), leading up to my 30th birthday, my world-view changed.  It would be easy, and lazy, to blame this on the Republican Party.  "I didn't leave the GOP.  The GOP left me."  On a base level, I believe that (and will get to it in a moment), but in a more broad sense, my exodus from the Republican party was intentional.  Whether we care to admit it or not, minimalist government and lower taxes primarily benefits the better off among us.  Supply side economics (aka "Trickle down") has never been shown to be all that effective other than in the reverse narrative of the right.  And the idea that we will take care of each other through private philanthropy if we were just left to our own devices, and government would "get out of the way", is the most idealistic nonsense I've ever heard.  Anyone involved in the nonprofit world knows that this maxim does not play out in the real world.  Even the most successful nonprofit has 40% or more of its operating expenses provided by State and Federal grants and would no longer exist but for those funds.

I repeatedly found myself tripping over my own ideology as what I saw in the real world did not jive with what I saw inside my head.  I don't think government is the answer (and I don't think any reasonable Democrat would say as much), but I do think that the Democratic Party is more realistic about the problems our world faces and that there is a role for collective action in meeting those challenges.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party no longer wanted me.  From the start, even while attending all those Federalist Society meetings, I was a socially liberal Republican, which in some circles made me a RINO (it was almost more difficult to determine who wasn't a RINO than who was).  I may never understand why a political party would pursue ideological purity when the end goal is to recruit as many people as possible to stand under your tent.  Here's a free tip -- "Admit it, you're a liberal" does not help win elections.  It just makes you an asshole.

 More and more, as I tried to keep pace with the Republican party, it drifted away.  I found some small retreat in the idea of being a "Kittleman Republican"; finally some philosophical balance.  Small government across the board.  But eventually, along with my general conclusion that we did need government in our lives, I became concerned that Allan may be left to lead a protest party within a protest party.  Life's too short to fight this many fires.

I wasn't in on the anger.  The unquenchable hate.  The "otherness" placed on anyone who wasn't a "like-minded individual."  Who cares about policy when you can just be angry about how much the other side is ruining America?  "Take our Country back" from whom?  I'm not one that blames the polarization of our Country on both sides.  I blame Republicans first.  Not so much the fringe, for they will always exist.  I blame the leadership for getting out of the way and failing to stand up for moderation and reasonable discourse.  It is far too late now, but there was a time when the adults were still in charge.

I hold nothing against Republicans or the Republican Party.  This decision was very difficult.  As much as I truly love politics, changing my registration was like changing my name.  You may be tempted to tell me why my decision was wrong or that my reasoning is unsound, but frankly it is none of your business.  I've had every conceivable conversation with myself about why I was making this decision and they all pointed in one direction.  And as much as I love my Unaffiliated voters, with primaries being more and more important, it is hard to see such a registration as much more than a stand on principle with little other substance.  There are two very different plans for America that battle every single day.  If you don't find yourself leaning one way or the other, you see a world much different than my own.

In case it wasn't obvious, I did not want to write this post.  But after two days without posting, and the familiarity that you and I find ourselves in every morning, I figured I owed it to you.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.