I’ve gone and done it.
After being a registered Democrat my entire adult life, I have changed my political affiliation to “Independent.” I’m pretty sure my parents would be turning over in their graves.
Why, you (may) ask?
I think it’s because the two mainstream parties — the Democrats and Republicans — have no interest in me, although I maintain a strong interest in politics. I vote, religiously, but I don’t contribute much beyond meager sums to candidates I happen to know. I’m not over-the-top wealthy, either, so the Citizens United decision equating speech with money doesn’t really apply to me.
Philosophically, I don’t feel at home in either party. The Republican Party — the Grand Old Party of Lincoln and TR and Ike — has morphed into an ugly, negative mob, pushing far too far to the right side of the political spectrum for my tastes and beliefs, while drowning out or intimidating the party’s few voices of moderation.
Yet my largest disappointment, and disagreement, comes with what’s been my party, the Democrats. I became a Democrat because my Mom and Dad were Democrats, who grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. My father was poor and led a hardscrabble existence after high school, holding all sorts of tough jobs (including time with the New Deal-inspired Civilian Conservation Corps), like laying railroad tracks across the Mountain and Pacific West. My mother grew up in a middle class setting in which just about everyone had a tough time making ends meet. Folks on those times were indelibly marked by their experiences during the Depression. My parents were Democrats because they believed that it was the party that helped the middle class. Others, of course, became lifelong Republicans because they resentedd FDR’s bold moves to expand government.
Both parties have abandoned (beyond lip service) any sort of cohesive approach to pressing policy issues such as education enhancement, immigration, environment protection, banking and credit reform. Republicans are at least consistent: they want less government (except for women), and reduced taxes. Democrats are all over the map on policy, yet meek and disingenuous in advocating their historically progressive agenda. Reform, to the Democrats, has become incremental and tentative, when bold, creative leadership is needed. On issues like infrastructure investment and sane gun legislation, the Democrats have become irrelevant.
It’s always been this way, you could argue. Dysfunction is part of the political leavening process to insure against extreme solutions. The situation is exacerbated today by an increasingly partisan media, which focuses on the horse race aspects of elections (assigning winners and losers before the race is even started) while paying very little attention to who the candidates are and what they stand for, if anything.
Meanwhile, in the wake of disastrous Supreme Court decisions, the political process is awash in cash, and it feels increasingly like Members of Congress from both parties take their marching orders from well-heeled contributors and legions of paid lobbyists. Bipartisanship has all but disappeared, replaced by confrontation and one-upmanship for the benefit of superficial, conflict-driven news coverage. (The Koch Brothers, worth an estimated $80 billion, are reportedly budgeting $125 million for this year’s midterm elections, more than either party’s combined total planned expenditures).
I’ve become disenchanted. Can you tell? As an Independent, I hope I can find a middle, practical ground that once characterized American politics. Yes, moderation is never sexy, especially now in today’s bling-saturated society. Yet I hold out the hope that if enough others go the Independent route, then one day there might be a critical mass for serious reform.
That’s a dream, right now. Sort of like the dream my parents had, in the midst of the Depression, that working together, the nation could be better.