Alex Keaton was my kind of Republican. As played by Michael J. Fox on Family Ties, capitalism was good. Money was good. Business was good. Ambition was good.
Something happened on my way to the promised land, well before hanging chads, Bernie Madoff, corporate bail-outs, and al Qaeda, something the Republican party could not or would not control. Special interest groups usurped the party’s core values.
In my early adulthood, like Alex Keaton, I was a young Republican. The only opposition was the Democratic party, and politics seemed simple. Republicans were for business and personal responsibility; the Democrats were for the government and social responsibility. Depending on which you thought would do a better job taking care of American society, you could make a clear choice. Talk radio was for entertainment and education, and newspapers tried to verify their stories. “Conservative” meant slow to change and “liberal” meant fast-moving or progressive reform.
I even participated in a Republican caucus in Washington State, until they asked me to back faith-healer, 700 Club minister Pat Robertson for President- Washington was the only state to elect him in the Republican primaries. The religious right continued to grow in power.
Soon came the socialist liberals, Green Peace, Rush Limbaugh, outsourcing, , Hurricane Katrina, global warming, YouTube, Titanic, Dancing with the Stars, the iPod, and ten thousand cable channels. More than thirty years from my first Presidential vote, there is not one divide, but several. The culprit is no single entity. It is golden parachutes versus the unemployed, and social health care versus private health care. It is women’s choice versus executioners of Pro-Choice doctors, outsourcing jobs versus isolationism, oil versus alternative energy, widespread deficit spending versus lowly taxpayers. It is extremism and democracy, walking hand in hand.
I’ll pause to discuss Rush Limbaugh for a moment. As a staunch Republican, I naturally listened to Rush daily, back when he was “only” on about 300 stations. I remember one interview so well- he was to meet with then-Vice-President Al Gore and he spent the two weeks on the air leading up to that event Democrat-bashing with every breath. He took on-air call after call from “ditto-heads” to accumulate the best questions with which to confront the very heart of liberalism. He blasted global warming reports and warned against the new socialist regime, all the while touting his own huge following. Then came the long-awaited television interview, which I watched with confusion. Never had Rush been so meek, so understated. It looked like Captain Kangaroo interviewing Mr. Rogers. He was pitching snowballs.
That was the last time I listened to Mr. Limbaugh as a fan. When I looked further into his dynasty, I found that after dropping out of college and being fired as a radio disc jockey, he had made a living as a promotions director for the Kansas City Royals. Later, he replaced the controversial Morten Downy Jr. as a radio personality in Sacramento, CA, just when radio’s fairness doctrine was repealed. The rest, as they say, is history. To this day, Rush is at his best when spouting polarizing rhetoric bombastically, which draws an extremely large following, like moths to a torchlight.
The truth be known, sometime in the last decade, I became embarrassed to be known as a Republican. Perhaps it was the association with the religious right wing, or a bumbling President George W. Bush, topped off by the awful campaign appearances by Sarah Palin. I know that when I looked at the Republican platform, I found myself in agreement with very few planks. I believe in limited gun control, I do not want prayer in schools, and I think the death penalty should be reserved for only the most heinous of murders, only those proven by undeniable physical evidence. I think the Republicans give lip service to “family values” and I am in favor of legalizing gay unions, whether or not you call them marriages. I believe it was Republicans who deregulated the banking industry, the first step to the current economic collapse.
OK, I think, so I must be a Democrat. My mom was a Democrat when I was growing up, back in the days of the Kennedy administration. But no, I can’t back a party whose motto seems to be, “fear sells, catastrophe sells more.” The liberal slant to redistribute most of the American wealth to the down-trodden seems to have taken hold in the Democratic Party. I am against big government, so I definitely would not be a popular member of that party. In other issues, I believe the Endangered Species Act goes too far, that minorities should be helped with jobs and education rather than handouts and welfare, and I believe Reaganomics provided the economic windfall for which President Clinton eventually took credit. I also want to ramp up, not disassemble, our space program.
This country is not as polarized as the media reports- the political parties, yes, but the populous, no. This bears out as the voter trend away from the two major parties towards the Independent label continues unabated. But the two opposed groups consist of moderates and extremists, and the moderates are quietly losing. Interestingly, the moderates of both parties have much more in common that the entire membership of either party.
Independents are by definition ineffectual. Maybe what we need is a number of issue-related parties to which we can simultaneously belong. Membership in the Green Power party should not preclude you from joining the Anti-Outsourcing or the Balanced Budget parties. One’s membership list would actually describe one’s own personal platform. This world is too complex for a two-party system.