Friday, January 16, 2009

My exodus from the GOP

John Cole reflects on why he bolted the Republican Party. Interestingly, I bolted the GOP about the same time he did. I first voted in 2002--I voted for Bill Simon for Governor of California, which is not particularly something I regret, although voting for John Doolittle is something I regret. I wasn't a registered Republican, although I identified with the GOP I was actually pretty moderate in high school. Center right, you might say.

In the 2003 special election I voted for Tom McClintock for Governor, and still considered myself reasonably conservative. But by the summer of 2004 I had made up my mind to vote for John Kerry. I wonder why that was, exactly. Bush wasn't as much of a screw-up then as he became later. At times I even considered voting for Bush. But for some reason I just couldn't. It's hard to remember why I moved in that direction, but I do think that it had partly to do with Bush's mismanagement of Iraq--I figured that a civil war was imminent--and that it had much to do with Abu Gharaib. Something happened there that tarnished not only Don Rumsfeld, but also the Bush Administration and America for good. After that, as far as I was concerned, Bush was a compromised man. And I just thought Kerry would be better at the job.

I was still a decline to state voter at this point, though. Bush's second term pushed me quite a bit further away from the GOP, and Sarah Palin completed the cycle. I used to be a Republican because the Republican Party once held the principles that I still hold: a strong but realist foreign policy, a belief in the importance of hard work and success, a belief in human rights and leaving people the hell alone when it comes to their personal lives. Now, I've definitely changed my outlook in some areas: I went from being pro-life to pro-choice, for example, and I've done a complete 180 on gay issues, and my point of view on economic policy has changed a bit. But I might have been a gettable vote for the Republican Party of George H. W. Bush.

Ultimately, though, the Republican Party is a spent force, fighting the same old battles because that's comfortable for them. Conservatism hasn't had a big, unambiguous policy victory since 1995 with welfare reform, which might have ironically helped out liberalism more by reforming one of the most notorious big government programs. Subsequent conservative ideas--like vouchers--have been unpopular, so conservatives eased off of cultural messages and kicked up the cultural appeals. Nowadays, that's virtually all they have.

And that's what has been really eye-opening for me. Before I went to college I had met two gay guys who were both nice but both were mere acquaintances, not friends. I met many more gay people in college and, after a fashion, came to realize that there was nothing wrong with them. The GOP's continuing campaign to demonize gays and restrict their rights is, in my opinion, no different from the Democrats' campaign to do the same thing to Blacks a few generations ago. Yes, there has been far less violence involved, but in both cases it's about the majority group trying to maintain the established social hierarchy by demonizing an innocent minority. This is a sign of a deep moral dysfunction within this group--breaking up peoples' marriage as an ongoing campaign to win social conservative votes? Craven doesn't begin to describe it. History will not look kindly on this. In fact, the GOP will demonize and marginalize any group it can that's not part of the White middle-class suburbanite dude clientele it caters to.

And then there's the actual culture of the GOP. Poisonous is the word I'm looking for. This is a party that has, in the previous two elections, assaulted the reputations of two good and patriotic men. Al Gore served his country in uniform and spent decades in public service, as did John Kerry. To go even further, Kerry raised two daughters on his own. Bush, on the other hand, dodged Vietnam, spent about six years in public service before 2000 and generally accomplished nothing despite his many advantages. He raised two daughters whose antics were perpetual tabloid fodder. On any metric, both Gore and Kerry have got to be considered better men than George W. Bush, and either one would have been a better president. I realize that elections are rough and that regrettable things are always said, but questioning a man's war heroism baselessly is unforgivable, and points to a lack of decency in today's Republican party. Democrats never have a good point. They're never just principled patriots who have different ideas. It's always vitriol. Where does the hate come from? I don't know, but I know I never shared it. But it always seemed to go over big among conservatives.

So, there's all that. But Bush's second term has been absolutely crazy: he's failed us so badly and in so many ways. Iraq, Katrina, and the financial collapse have been very dispiriting, and anyone with eyes to see has to know by now that deliberate mismanagement is at play. Throw in torture, shredding constitutional liberties, polarizing the country instead of uniting it, squandering a real opportunity to remake the Middle East after 9/11 and instead pursuing his own little set of goals--his failures of leadership have been so many that his supporters can only point to a handful of accomplishments that are laughable by comparison. And, yet, three-quarters of Republicans like the guy still. Everyone else has been horrified.

I believe that F.D.R. was our finest president, especially if you look at what America was when he took office and what it was when he was done. The man made this country, and defeated totalitarianism, too. Bush has, in many respects, unmade it. Once-sacred truths--like America standing for human rights--are now sad jokes. We don't know what we are anymore. That's always been the promise of Obama: a new start. I'm looking forward to see how it will work.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.