Several months ago, I used this column to list, in a rather flippant fashion, the things about today?s GOP that repel me. But a change of this magnitude really deserves a more serious explanation. Why, after 35 years of active participation in the Republican party, have I formalized this change? Why don?t I just do what so many of my friends do?retain my ?official? party affiliation, but vote mostly Democrat? What pushed me over the edge?
Some six months ago, I told friends I was “jumping the fence” and becoming a Democrat. Cathy Scott, active with the Stonewall Democrats, suggested that Stonewall might have a party to celebrate, and I (naively) said sure. By the time this column appears, the event will have occurred. Far from the small group I had envisioned, Stonewall rented out the Omni, the Indianapolis Star and NUVO ran articles, and the state Democratic party held a news conference. It was embarrassing and gratifying all at the same time: seemingly blown all out of proportion, but nice to finally feel wanted after years in an increasingly hostile and right-wing GOP.
Several months ago, I used this column to list, in a rather flippant fashion, the things about today’s GOP that repel me. But a change of this magnitude really deserves a more serious explanation. Why, after 35 years of active participation in the Republican party, have I formalized this change? Why don’t I just do what so many of my friends do—retain my “official” party affiliation, but vote mostly Democrat? What pushed me over the edge?
The answer to that question can be found by comparing today’s Republican Party with the party I joined 35 years ago. The truth of the matter is that I did not leave the Party. The Party left me.
When I became a Republican, the Party stood for free trade, fiscal responsibility and limited government—truly limited government. That meant that the state did not belong in your bedroom any more than it did in your boardroom. Limited government was not a code word for “no new taxes”—it was a statement of a principle of governance.
The Bush administration still proclaims a devotion to free trade, but the reality is dramatically different. We have massive farm subsidies, tariffs on steel, and lots of special favors for corporate campaign donors. Today, if you can afford to make the right contributions and hire the right lobbyists, you can effectively insulate yourself from the operations of the free market. Corporate executives at Enron, Worldcom, et al could not have lined their pockets with the pensions of their employees without the help of members of this Administration and the Republicans in Congress, who relaxed accounting rules and enabled Arthur Anderson and others so inclined to lie massively to the American public. Real capitalists—of whom I am one—understand that markets do not and cannot work in the absence of accurate information allowing consumers and investors to make informed decisions. Loosening the constraints on accountants was not a pro-market act—it was a pro-crony act.
Republican fiscal responsibility is a joke. Those of us who are not distracted by the drumbeat of “bomb Iraq” can enumerate the economic “achievements” of this Administration: the number of people unemployed since Bush assumed office has risen by thirty-five percent; a federal surplus of 281 billion dollars has become a deficit of 157 billion*; two million jobs have been lost; the stock market is down 34%; an additional 1.4 million people are without health insurance, bringing the total of uninsured to 41 million plus.
“Limited government” to today’s Republican means tax relief for the wealthy while we soak the poor (those leaving the welfare rolls have a substantially higher marginal tax rate than millionaires do). It means leaving big business alone while government regulates private, consensual behaviors; de-regulating industry while trying to insure that children pray in school, same-sex couples are disadvantaged (or worse), sex education is replaced by “abstinence-only” curricula that are demonstrably ineffective, and the Ten Commandments are posted in government buildings.
Thirty–eight percent of the leadership of state GOP committees is currently held by the Christian Right. And don’t even get me started on John Ashcroft.
No less disastrous is the current conduct of foreign policy. Bush’s unilateralism undermines our ability to cope with terrorism; his obsession with Iran masks and ignores far more dangerous situations; and his enumeration of a pre-emptive strike policy legitimizes the notion that a perceived threat justifies invasion. What will we do when China uses that policy to justify an assault on Taiwan, or India cites it to justify an attack on Pakistan? In his eagerness to vindicate his father—or distract us from the mess he has made of the economy —Bush has created an incredibly dangerous precedent. It may well come back to haunt us.
I have run out of column inches, but not out of reasons to depart the GOP. And while I have my differences with the Democrats, that party has also changed dramatically since I first became a voter. As the GOP has marched steadily to the right, the Democrats have moved to fill the vacuum in the middle. Today, it is the Democrats who (mostly) endorse free trade, civil liberties and fiscal responsibility. As a young Democratic friend of mine put it several years ago, “If I were your age, I’d be Republican. If you were my age, you’d be a Democrat.”
I’m not his age. But the party I joined when I was his age no longer exists. And today’s Democrats look a lot like the Republicans did then. My loyalty is to ideas, not labels. Today’s Republicans have very bad ideas.
* These numbers are reminiscent of the famous quip by Everett Dirksen, “A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there—pretty soon you’re talking about real money!”