In Defense of Apostasy

A good friend of mine, one of those thoughtful Republicans from a former era, has decided–after internal struggle–that he will cast his vote for Richard Mourdock–despite his obvious distaste for the man and his positions. His justification is that Mourdock will cast his first vote for leadership of the Senate. My friend, a long-time Republican who has held elective office, is a “team player.” He cites the old adage: “he may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our¬†son-of-a-bitch.”

I understand the reasoning. If you truly believe that your “team” has better ideas, will do better by the country, you can justify swallowing hard and supporting dubious team members.

But what if your whole team is playing dirty? What if the mean-spirited and intellectually limited guy you are holding your nose and voting for is more typical than you want to admit? What if your team has abandoned the ideas and positions that drew you to join in the first place? Where should your loyalties lie–to the team, or the sport? To your party, or the country?

People join political parties for many reasons. Mom and Dad were Democrats or Republicans. You want to get ahead, and you live in one of the increasingly common areas where one party dominates. You identify as union, or management, and that identification trumps other concerns. Or you develop a political philosophy and choose the party with the platform that is most consistent with that ideology. Whatever the reason for that original choice, political scientists tell us that few of us rethink it. Instead, we continue to root for our first “team,” much as sports fans do.

In my own case (being a teenager who read a lot and didn’t date much), I became a Republican because I had formed pretty firm political positions; I was a social liberal and a fiscal conservative (still am), and in the early 1960s, the Democrats were much farther to the left than I was (or than Democrats are today). I was drawn to the libertarian wing of the Republican party, which came closest to my own beliefs. In the years since, both the Democrats and GOP have moved further and further to the right, and I became less and less comfortable with my “team.” George W. Bush was the final straw, and I left the party. I became an apostate. Many of my former political friends understood; others became very chilly, and some very critical opinions of my apostasy have gotten back to me. Fair enough.

But here’s the thing. Politics isn’t football, where who wins and loses doesn’t ultimately make a difference in the lives of real people. Many of my Republican friends from the “old days” recognize how much the party has changed, but they can’t bring themselves to sever the bond. They tell themselves that the Mourdocks and the Pences and Akins and Wests and Bachmanns and Brouns and so many others are just outliers, that the Democrats also have whack jobs (true enough, just not nearly as many and not currently in control of the party). So they justify continuing to support the very people who are destroying the once-respectable Republican brand.

No intellectually honest person will agree with any political party 100% of the time–or even 90%. We all fit imperfectly into those political boxes. But when the party you vote for holds positions you know to be deeply damaging to the body politic, when too many of the people you are nominating are uninformed bloviators and ¬†worse, it’s time to consider apostasy.

If we all became “swing voters,” willing to abandon either party when it loses its way–if neither party could depend upon a base of knee-jerk support from people who are cheering for a team rather than voting their policy preferences–I think we’d get better parties.