When I first registered to vote in South Dakota, where you are required to specify a party affiliation or lack thereof, I registered as a Republican. This was largely because the state is pretty strongly Republican and by registering as one, I was allowed to vote in their primary, giving me a voice on who would probably be elected in the fall.
In 1986, Tom Daschle left his Congressional Seat to run for (and ultimately win) a seat in the Senate. The Republicans nominated fellow Spearfishian Dale Bell to run for the open seat against Tim Johnson. Dale Bell was, in my opinion, a doofus. His primary platform seemed to be “Vote for Me, I’m from West River” (South Dakota is split down the middle by the Missouri River and the two halves of the state don’t get along very well). Okay, that’s all well and good when you are addressing West River crowds, but one of the reasons why the seat is almost always held by an East Riverine is because that’s where the population is. I was so embarrassed by Bell’s stance at a candidate forum at my alma mater, I sought Johnson out afterwards to apologize, perhaps to demonstrate that not all West Riverians were so parochial (or doofus-y).
Whether Bell lost because of this strategic error or some other reason I don’t know, but that’s why I didn’t vote for him. I wanted something a little more concrete than sharing a common point of origin if I was going to vote for him. I voted for Johnson.
At about the same time, I was enamored of the idea of starting a new political party, the Federalist party. I was already disenchanted with the establishment parties for a few reasons, but they mostly boiled down to a dissatisfaction with the size and power of the Federal Government in relation to the States. I did use the term States Rights a few times, not in the sense that the states should be supreme or anything, but that they really ought to be able to decide some things for themselves, like speed limits and drinking ages, without the Feds getting all up in their business.
This was also a time of ballooning deficits and crazy national debt. The Republican Party touted itself as the party of Fiscal Responsibility and spent a lot of time berating “Tax and Spend Democrats.” And I was on board. Borrowing and Borrowing to fund $600 toilet seats? Craziness! On the other hand, this highly Republican State had produced the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, whom I had met back in 86 on a school trip to Washington, DC.
I was a staunch pro-life Catholic. When I took Constitutional Law in college we studied Roe v. Wade, and do you know what I learned? You don’t want to overturn Roe. Roe held that the government has an interest in protecting potential life but that interest has to be balance against a woman’s right to make family planning and medical decisions without government interference. I’m not convinced that Roe has been correctly applied to the real world, and reasonable people can certainly disagree about how to tip the balance between competing responsibilities. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to argue that the government has a right to interfere in such private decisions.
Fast forward to 2000. I’ve moved to Austin, Texas, a very blue island in the middle of a very red state. Texas Governor George W. Bush breaks his campaign promise to finish his second term and not run for President. I had voted for his father for President in 88 but since then, I had not seen a presidential candidate from either major party that I thought was suitable for the job. Starting in 1992, I randomly chose minor third-party and independent candidates who gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot. But after 8 years of Clinton we had what I had thought in the Reagan-Bush years to be impossible: not just a balanced budget but a budget surplus. Hooray!
We all know what happened next. I was never in favor of the Bush Tax Cuts. I was okay with Afghanistan because of Al Qaeda and 9/11 but I was never in favor of Iraq. I was never in favor of warrantless wiretapping. I was never in favor of “enhanced interrogation techniques” a.k.a. torture. It seemed like every turn was the Bush Administration doing something not anti-Republican.
And if that wasn’t frustrating enough, suddenly I was being labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only). I was and had been participating in a political newsgroup (anyone remember NNTP?) hosted by an online magazine I subscribed to, in which there were a number of people who had decried everything Clinton had done and defended every stupid thing the Bushies did. It didn’t matter what it was, if Bush or Cheney or some other Republican said it, it must be true, and exactly what the Founding Fathers intended. And anyone who said otherwise, as if not exactly un-patriotic certainly not a Real Republican. I was accused of being a RINO engaging in the No True Scotsman Fallacy. The irony of this accusation was completely lost on my accusers. I eventually got to the point where I stated publically that I no longer wanted to be associated with a political party that would condone torture and electronic eavesdropping. Abandoning the concept of Fiscal Responsibility was the least of my worries by this point.
I recently got married to a strongly progressive Democrat. We actually agree on a lot of things and she, like my old nemeses, thinks I’m not a real Republican, that my politics are more in line with the Democratic Party Platform. She’s not wrong about that last part, but only because the Republican Party has abandoned just about every position that attracted me in the first place. The thing that’s most galling to me is to hear them talk about the Democrats spending habits. They pretend they are upset about the amount, but I’m pretty sure its just a matter of who gets that money. If it’s not going to corporate welfare or their CEO buddies in a no-bid contract it must be socialism.
Anyway, I still vote in the Republican primary. Not because I necessarily think the Republicans ought to be in office, but because somebody needs to pull them back toward the middle. The Republican party in general has the same problem as the “Republicans” on Pyramid; they accept blindly without applying any critical thinking. They spend their time rationalizing instead of questioning whether the Republican in question might possibly be wrong.
So my unofficial motto for this blog is “Let’s think about this.” I’m hoping to apply some thought to the process and maybe come up with different conclusions. I invite your thoughtful comments as well. If you have different lines of reasoning or have access to contradictory evidence I want to hear from you. If you just want to call people names or spout the party line (either party) without evidence, I’ll delete your comments.