No, I didn’t watch the debate the other night. Why should I have? I’ve been paying attention for years, not minutes. I could have written that debate ahead of time.
Presidential debates stopped being anything other than carefully scripted dog and pony shows decades ago, and in our sound-bite gotcha-now who-can-spin-things-faster political culture here in the 21st century this has only gotten worse. If you haven’t figured out who stands for what by this point, the finely-honed ambiguous non-responses to blandly innocuous questions that are the stock in trade of such things – punctuated by carefully rehearsed ad-lib zingers – aren’t going to help.
Plus, to judge from the responses of those who did sit through it, the event fell into a predictable pattern of Democratic passivity in the face of a Republican avalanche of truculence and ideological fantasy. I’ve seen that movie. It’s been playing pretty much nonstop for the last four years. I know how it goes.
The main reason I didn’t watch, however, is that, while I don’t necessarily know who I will be voting for in any given race, I do know who I will not under any circumstances be voting for. For any office. At any level of government.
For most of my political life, I was an independent.
I have been registered as both a Republican and a Democrat over the years, depending on what the primary situation was like wherever I happened to be. In an all-Republican area I was a Republican; in a place where everyone else was a Democrat, so was I. When the primary is the only election that matters for most races, you do what you have to in order to make your voice heard. But that was an administrative matter, not a change of heart.
This wasn’t the wishy-washy sort of independent that says, “Both parties are exactly the same, who can tell the difference, why should I pick one?” That is an astonishingly lazy and ill-informed way to look at things and anyone who tells you that with a straight face is a buffoon who can be safely ignored in all political matters.
Nor was it the cynical or arrogant sort of independent that says, “They’re both awful and a plague upon both their houses and I could not possibly lower myself to be counted as either of them.” Moral purity is a luxury given to those without responsibilities. You have to find a side.
No, my being an independent drew from the fact that I looked at both parties and genuinely felt that there was something I valued being represented by each party. At least there was for most of my political life, anyway.
I’ve always been more hawkish than my more liberal friends, for example. The military is a tool, and when used properly – with restraint, with courage, with the kind of intense planning for both combat operations and post-combat needs that is morally demanded of anyone who intentionally puts others in harm’s way – it can be both effective and just.
I’m also a fiscal conservative at heart – you pay for the services you demand and you don’t push debts onto your grandchildren – and I am a great believer in the right of the individual to be left alone with his or her moral choices, which at one point not too long ago was the heart of what Americans called “conservative.”
That’s not what it means to be Conservative in the traditional sense, but that’s another blog post. In fact, I think I’ve already written that blog post. We have right wing Liberals and left wing Liberals in this country – have since the 1820s – and we call the first group “conservative” and the second group “liberal” largely for rhetorical convenience and that’s just one more way the US insists on not fitting in with the rest of the world.
On the other hand, I am far more socially liberal than my conservative friends. I am a firm believer in human rights – whether described as civil rights, equal rights, or some other catch phrase used by the powerful to disguise the fact that women, gays, blacks and other marginalized groups are actually people – and I have always been clear on the self-evident fact that we are all in this together and had damned well better act like it if we want this country to live up to its own founding ideals (which ideals, having earned a PhD in the subject, I am quite sure I can identify better than most people, so if anyone out there is planning on planning to yell at me on that score please keep that fact in mind, particularly as my “suffering fools gladly” gland seems to have withered into a nonfunctioning condition of late and my response will be … unambiguous).
Further, I believe in the power of government to improve society and I’m informed enough to know that this has been a constant fact throughout American history.
Most of American prosperity has come from the use of political power to achieve social and economic ends, and anyone who says otherwise has no grasp of history. Western settlement? Sponsored by the government. Railroads? Paid for with tax dollars. Highways and infrastructure? Public money. The internet? DOD project. And on and on.
Most American justice has also come from the use of political power to achieve social and economic ends as well. It was the government that ended slavery, not the free market. Slavery was, in fact, quite profitable and growing more so at the dawn of the Civil War. It was the government that curbed the rapacious excesses of the Gilded Age and forced corporations to be less thuggish toward the people who made them function. It has been the government that has worked to level the playing field for basically everyone who isn’t straight, white, male and wealthy. Private interests had little or nothing to contribute to those struggles, and quite a bit to contribute against them.
The fact that there are a lot of ignorant people out there loudly shouting nonsense about the evils of government and the pristine virtue of market capitalism, many of whom are running for office today, is an indictment of modern American political life, not a refutation of my position.
So I’ve been in the middle most of my life. Indeed, the first twenty-plus years of my political life, I never managed to vote a straight ticket in any non-primary election, despite never missing one. I found the candidates for political office who most agreed with what I wanted them to agree with, whichever party they happened to claim to represent, and I voted for them.
As we slide down the greased banister of politics toward the big round testicle-level newel at the bottom that is the impending election, however, it occurs to me that I can now save myself the trouble of investigating individual candidates, because an entire group of them have taken themselves out of serious consideration.
As of right now, I simply cannot foresee a time when I would voluntarily cast a ballot for a Republican candidate for any office, no matter how inconsequential. Even if I know that candidate to be a decent and honorable person individually, the fact that they have seen fit to tie themselves to that howling morass of a party would outweigh any such consideration – nobody running on the Republican ticket today is worth my vote for that reason alone, regardless of any other factors.
It’s as simple as that.
This is a shame. The United States in general and our political system in particular need an organized, responsible, adult voice for conservatives to make themselves heard. Conservatives serve the useful function of putting a brake on the random undirected enthusiasms of liberals, in the way that liberals serve the useful function of kicking conservatives out of their deep dark caves. The two sides need each other. Unfortunately the Republican Party has abdicated its responsibility to be responsible and adult. It has rushed headlong into the realm of batshit insanity thinly disguised as … well, more batshit insanity, really. It has mounted a savage attack on all who do not adhere to the new, extremist, ideological purity demanded of its members and has expelled any who dare dissent from the party line. In doing so it has become a malignant caricature of its former self. There is no responsible voice for conservatives in the US in 2012. None.
Unless you count Barack Obama, who is essentially Dwight Eisenhower without the Army uniform.
There would have to be a wholesale shift in the ideology, platform and base of the Republican Party before any responsible adult could possibly consider voting Republican, and I just don’t see that happening without a seismic and cataclysmic blow to their organizational structure. They have to lose and lose convincingly – they need to be shattered on the rock of their own malfeasance, ignorance, and treachery – before responsible conservatives can return and turn it into something useful again.
Until then, no. Just, no.
It occurs to me that a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that I should declare the causes which impel me to this separation.
The problem with doing so, of course, is two-fold.
First, there is the fact that the sheer volume of evidence makes such a declaration unwieldy. I’ve spent a fair amount of time going through a nine-point list of reasons why the Republican Party has abdicated its responsibilities as an American institution, why it should not be trusted with any political power at any level of government, and why the United States will be better off when its current incarnation is demolished and rebuilt back to some form of responsible conservative politics, and you know – it got really, really long. Each of those nine points was an entire multi-thousand word blog post of its own, complete with graphs, charts and a pile of facts that towered high enough to threaten to blot out the sun. Perhaps I will post them individually at some point, but not now.
And second, beyond my own satisfaction at having it all there in one place, there’s little point to listing all that evidence when you get right down to it. The modern Republican Party, as a group, has amply demonstrated that it has little regard for reality or facts – this is the party currently campaigning against the very existence of fact-checkers, after all, and the one that dismissively condemned the “reality-based community” a few years back. More evidence won’t help. And the reality-based community (what a marvelous phrase!) already agrees with me. There is only so much preaching to the choir one can do before they fall asleep too.
But perhaps it would be worthwhile to set out the nine points, at least. So here they are. Bear in mind that these are the edited versions, with most of the supporting evidence held in reserve.
I will not vote for any Republican for any office at any time in the foreseeable future because:
1. I believe in fiscal responsibility.
The fact that the Republican Party trades on its reputation for fiscal accountability and responsibility is one of the great con jobs of modern politics. By almost any measure, the current financial catastrophe is almost entirely due to the mismanagement of the Republicans over the last thirty to forty years. Debt has increased far more under Republican leadership than Democratic leadership. Deficits have been greater. Spending has been wilder. And the numbers bear this out. The fact that Obama had to spend in order to clean up the mess left by the Republicans – and do so in the face of fanatically partisan resistance to anything that might help the nation as a whole rather than just the Republican Party – does not change that.
Further, Republicans have shown themselves utterly unwilling to pay for any of their spending. They refuse even to discuss taxes, to the point where they deliberately damaged the credit rating of the United States of America in a juvenile partisan spat over a routine financial measure that they themselves used repeatedly when they were in charge. And as of 2008, the most recent numbers I could find, Republicans controlled 16 of the top 25 tax-consuming states (and 7 of the top 10), while 10 of the top 11 tax-donating states were controlled by Democrats. Republicans have no problem taking tax money from others. But paying their fair share? Not on your life.
Because the Republican Party is wildly irresponsible when it comes to money, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
2. I believe in a strong military.
Over the last several decades the Republican Party has paid a fair amount of lip service to the US military, but has provided precious little in the way of actual support beyond weighting it down with shiny new playthings, occasionally against the wishes of the military itself. They have thrown the military around the world in a series of poorly planned wars fought with little sense of what would happen once the shooting stopped. They have skimped on necessary equipment that wasn’t shiny enough, skimmed off the profits for private mercenary forces run by their corporate supporters, and abandoned the veterans who return to the US having paid the price for Republican adventurism. They treat the military like a toy rather than a tool, without regard for the consequences to the US economy, the larger picture of US security in the world, or the long-term sustainability of US power. Waving a flag around and blowing things up is no substitute for strategic thinking.
Because the bottom line is that the US is now weaker and less secure thanks to the actions and policies of the Republican Party, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
3. I believe that strong communities are essential to American society.
The modern Republican Party has fallen under the thrall of the cult of Ayn Rand, a mediocre science fiction author whose works glorify unrestrained selfishness as the only true path to nirvana. Combine that with the latent libertarianism inherent in the standard definition of American conservatism and you have a recipe for disaster.
You cannot build a community out of atomized individuals. All you get when you try is a Darwinian struggle for survival, which is ironic coming from a party that so loudly declares its disbelief in Darwin. But it accurately describes the vicious class warfare that the Republicans have engaged in over the last few decades. The result of their idol-worship of the wealthy and their refusal to recognize that supply-side economics do not work in a demand-side economy has been a massive transfer of wealth away from the poor and middle class and toward the already wealthy, a social arrangement which is not sustainable over time. Why they are interested in creating so many new poor people when all evidence concerning social safety nets, punitive criminal justice regimes, and vitriolic moral outrage suggests that they hate the poor people we already have is an interesting, if in the long run probably moot, question. There are reasons why the societies of the ancien regime collapsed into violence across the western world centuries ago, and the spectre of grinding poverty alongside gaudy wealth with no buffer in between is high on that list.
If you’re looking for more irony, note that this party which so loudly declares its fervent Christianity still manages to overlook Matthew 25:40 – “Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Lord have they done it to them.
There is a genuine distinction to be made between selfishness and self-interest. The latter often requires the individual to sacrifice their immediate gain for long-term benefits, benefits that accrue to the larger community first and then, because of the strength of the community, to the individual later. Stability. Broader prosperity. Amenities. Security. Education. Culture. None of these things can be accomplished by atomized selfish individuals, but self-interested community members who understand the difference between an investment and an expense can and do accomplish these things routinely. Communities make this nation strong, not atomized individuals.
Because the Republican Party refuses to grasp this distinction even when it slaps them in the face and thus places no value on community, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
4. I believe in the dignity and worth of women.
The Republican war on women has been well documented – indeed, the list of things I had intended to put in this space as supporting evidence is nearly as long as this entire blog post so far. The Republican Party has clearly demonstrated its fear and contempt for women in a bewildering variety of ways.
They have blocked funding for women’s health organizations, even to the point of denying women basic medical coverage in order to further their own social agenda. Condemning a vaccine against cervical cancer? Seriously? Yes, indeed. It’s also the Republican Party that gets its undies in a bundle every time the idea that women might actually enjoy having sex becomes a public issue.
They have campaigned against – and in some places actively removed – protections for women in the marketplace. It’s the Republican Party that has fought against and in some places – such as Wisconsin – overturned laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work for women, for example. Here in Wisconsin, the state GOP is actually on record as saying that women deserve less pay because money matters more to men.
The bottom line is that for the modern Republican Party women are second-class citizens. They are not to be trusted with their own interests, their own lives or their own bodies, and they should be subject to men at all times, preferably men with religious institutions backing them up. I find this despicable.
If you want to summarize the approach of the modern Republican Party to women, you have only to go back to the recent Congressional hearings on women’s reproductive health that were held in February 2012. As experts on women’s reproductive health, the Republican Party called five men, most of whom were clergy and at least one of whom had taken a vow of celibacy. Not a single woman was allowed to testify. Nor were any trained medical personnel. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.
Because the Republican Party systematically devalues the contributions, welfare and worth of women in American society, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
5. I believe in the separation of church and state.
The United States is not a Christian nation, and the Founding Fathers were very clear on that fact. It is a nation composed overwhelmingly of Christians – and some of the most zealous and aggressive Christians on the face of the planet at that – but that is not the same thing. Indeed, it is because of the latter that the Founding Fathers took steps to ensure the former.
This is not only written into the Constitution, but it is also written into the Bible. Matthew 22:21 clearly says, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Earthly government belongs to Caesar; the kingdom of Heaven is not of this world.
This is why it is so disturbing to see the frantic efforts of the modern Republican Party to convert the United States into a theocracy. They have fallen under the sway of a particularly extreme and blasphemous offshoot of Christianity known as Dominionist theology, which holds that everything needs to be subjugated to Christianity as defined by Dominionists – laws, ethics, morality, and the Constitution be damned. There are millions of real American citizens who are not Christians, and millions more who are Christians but regard the Dominionists with the unconcealed contempt they so richly deserve. Apparently we don’t count.
I’m not even going to go into the specific things I had intended to put here to back this up, as it is just too depressing for a thinking human being even to list. Instead I will simply note that the United States is a secular republic with a highly religious population and its government needs to remain the neutral ground it was designed to be by the Founders.
Because the Republican Party is pushing a religious agenda that marks it as deficient in both American history and Christian belief, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
6. I value education.
Education is an investment. It creates communities and neighborhoods. It is the foundation of our economic future. It is the lifeblood of a functioning republic. And the fact that the modern Republican Party has spent so much of its time and energy trying to destroy the American educational system is symptomatic of that party’s larger dysfunction.
Whenever you see schools being attacked as a waste of money, you can be assured that it is a Republican doing the dirty work. They have embarked on a campaign to systematically starve the public schools of this nation, and it is working precisely as intended – those schools are hurting, expensive private schools for the wealthy are booming, and a vast empire of poorly-educated, ideologically-indoctrinated home-schooled children is well under construction.
I’ve read the most popular US history textbook on the home-school market. It’s pure unadulterated right-wing drivel, so divorced from reality as to be not worth even using for kindling. No wonder these kids come out of that experience unprepared for anything beyond living in their own ideologically pure bubble.
This strategy fits in quite well with the Republican class warfare. Education is one of the surest paths out of poverty, and a truly educated person knows how to question the answers they are given. Educated people make lousy peasants. Thus you get the Republican Party of Texas – a bellwether state for that organization – explicitly declaring IN ITS PLATFORM its opposition to the teaching of critical thinking skills. Peasants don’t need critical thinking skills. Such things only make us question our betters.
Even when they do graciously allow the public schools to exist, Republicans do their best to empty them of all meaningful education. Watching Republicans engage in curriculum reform would be enough to drive Carrie Nation to drink. They demand that science be replaced with theology. They remove issues from history and science that conflict with the fantasyland of Republican ideology. They force teachers to omit anything that might lead to questioning – the notion that the US has always been multicultural, for example – and instead substitute their own nonsense. It was Republicans who resurrected the old Pro-Slavery argument from the 1850s and stuck it into the public schools in Louisiana, and it was a similar group of morons in Texas who had Thomas Jefferson cut from the US history curriculum and replaced with John Calvin, a 16th-century theologian who approved of people being burned at the stake. Fits right in with the general world view.
And don’t even get me started on the Republican vilification of teachers. According to the Republicans, teachers are welfare queens, teaching is “the best part-time job you’ll ever have,” and nobody should even ask for a living wage to do such things. You know what? It’s the revenge of the baseball hat guys. In every college class there are always a couple of them, slouching in the back row, not taking notes and getting snotty when their grades reflect their work habits – now they’re in charge, and this is their way of getting back.
The bottom line, I think, is that poll after poll after poll reveals the same thing – the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to support modern Republican policies. Rather than shift those policies to try to appeal to those who have been trained to think critically and who have acquired expertise about the way the world actually works, the modern Republican Party has simply decided to get rid of educated people. We’ve got our own, so-far-non-violent Khmer Rouge in this country, but at least they kept the colors consistent.
Because the Republican Party is virulently opposed to education as anything more than partisan indoctrination, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with that party.
7. I believe in democracy.
The basic political culture in the US since the early 1800s has been liberal democracy – the idea that sovereignty comes from the citizenry and therefore that citizenry should have the final word on government. The US has only gradually come to embody that ideal in some ways – the definition of “citizen” did not originally include women or blacks, for example – and as with any human-designed system there is still room for improvement. But overall it works, and if you want to be an American you need to respect it.
Thus I find the modern Republican Party’s assaults on democracy to be immoral and vile.
Under the guise of trying to eliminate “voter fraud” – a non-existent crime, from a statistical perspective – the Republicans have embarked on a concerted effort to disenfranchise those American citizens who are statistically less likely to vote for them. Voter ID bills requiring very specific forms of ID with very specific wording on them are aimed at keeping students, senior citizens, and minorities away from the polls – something that Republicans have, on occasion, been forthright enough to admit publicly (here’s looking at you, Pennsylvania state legislator Mike Turzai!). Indeed, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has admitted under oath that their Voter ID bill was passed despite the fact that there has been no evidence whatsoever of voter fraud in that state and that no voter fraud was expected to occur in the future even without the bill.
It is not an accident that in Tennessee a student ID is not sufficient to be allowed to vote but a gun registration is. It’s simple partisan politics, and it tells you all you need to know about the real purpose of such laws.
Now, electoral fraud, that’s another matter. Go ask anyone in Florida who really won the 2000 presidential election. Nobody knows. And the Republican Party spent many millions of dollars to make sure that nobody would ever know. The irony there is that W might have actually won – but an actual vote count was secondary to claiming power, so an actual vote count reflecting the will of the citizens of the United States was out of the question. Go ask the Republican Waukesha (WI) County clerk about the several thousand votes she claimed to have found on her personal and unsecured computer the day after the election, "votes" which swung a tight Supreme Court race toward the Republican candidate. Or ask her about the bags of paper ballots in the recount that were opened, tampered with, and resealed. But those favored Republicans, so they don’t count, apparently.
We can also talk about the Republican majority in the Wisconsin legislature violating open meeting laws designed to allow the citizens to keep tabs on their representatives. Or their refusal to let non-Republican legislators even read legislation being passed or vote on it one way or the other. Or the US Senate Republicans forcing every vote, no matter how mundane, to have a 60-vote filibuster-proof margin. And on and on.
It is clear that the modern Republican Party fundamentally does not accept the basic principles of democracy.
Because the Republican Party continues its assault on democracy in the United States without pause or apology, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
8. I want to preserve the republic.
The United States didn’t start out as a democracy, though. It started out as – and in its Constitutional form remains – a republic. This is a very specific form of government, one dependent on separating powers and placing the public good above private interest.
Neither of those things are important to the modern Republican Party.
This is the party that brought you the theory of the Unitary Executive, where the president (so long as he was a good Republican like George W. Bush and not a bad Democrat) was supreme and could institute whatever policies he wanted without regard to the courts or Congress. This is the party that brought you “signing statements” whereby the President could give his opinion of an act of Congress and have that be the definitive interpretation of the law, not the actual law or the intent of Congress. This is the party in Wisconsin that feels it is not bound by state or federal court decisions and can make up rules for other people as they go along. And on and on. The list of evidence that I had originally planned to put here stretches for nearly half a page of bullet-point notes and much of it was previously argued by no less a conservative voice than the Heritage Foundation. There is no “Decider” in the American political system, and any elected official who believes otherwise should be removed from office immediately, preferably with a stick.
This is also the party that holds there is nothing more important than private interest, least of all public service. The party that actively despises public employees even as they campaign to become them. You know what? I’ve checked the Constitution. It never says that the US is an oligarchy of the wealthy, powerful and authoritarian.
Quite the opposite.
Because the Republican Party fundamentally disrespects the republic created by the Founding Fathers, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
9. I do not hold with treason.
I’m not going to get into the things that are borderline here – the calls for states to mint their own coinage in violation of the Constitution, the calls for violence toward the duly elected president of the United States that come not from fringe elements but from other elected officials, the widespread and unapologetic calls for “Second Amendment solutions” to elections that didn’t go their way, the deliberate sabotage of the economy over partisan pique in 2011. You could make a decent case that such things fall into this category, but that would be a distraction.
And besides, there are unambiguously traitorous things that are easier to highlight.
In the last decade or so, there have been any number of calls for secession from the leaders of several different states. Those leaders have all – every single one of them – been Republicans. Rick Perry made that case while governor of Texas. The Republican-dominated Georgia State Senate passed a bill threatening to secede from the US in 2009 and endorsing the long-discredited theory of Nullification. This bill also passed Republican-controlled legislative chambers in Oklahoma and South Dakota.
Secession is treason.
It was treason in 1861 when the Confederacy tried it. It is treason in the 21st century when people bring it up again. People who call for secession need to be brought to trial and punished.
Instead the modern Republican Party embraces them. Rick Perry was the front-runner for the 2012 presidential nomination for a while. The Georgia Senate was never called to account for its actions. We just expect it, I suppose.
It’s one thing when your party has half-wit extremists in it – all parties have their share. But most parties are smart enough to marginalize such people, not celebrate them.
Because the modern Republican Party embraces treason rather than seeking to stamp it out, I cannot in good conscience vote for anyone who identifies themselves with this party.
And that’s enough for me.