When I turned 18, I registered to vote. And that was the worst idea I ever had.
Under the category of “Party Affiliation”, I checked the box next to “Republican.” It was an easy choice. You see, when you’re in school, and you’re taught about the differences between Democrats and Republicans, you’re taught Democrats = More Government and Republicans = Less Government. It’s a simplistic reduction, but on it’s face it seemed correct. Especially when you’re 18.
Plus, most everyone I truly admired in politics in my lifetime up until that point was Republican. Ronald Reagan was an affable sort with a dry wit who spoke well to the truly young, like being your kind, old grandpa. John McCain was a “Maverick” (the term has outlived its usefulness) who reached across the aisle just as often to shake hands as he did to smack his adversaries upside the head.
And that was everyone. No, I mean everyone. I actually didn’t like politicians. Never have. Never will. And I wasn’t quite sure why.
I remember the first time I voted, just one month after my 18th Birthday, one month after I checked that glorious box that declared me a proud, young Republican in favor of lower taxes and smaller government. It was the 2000 presidential election, and I voted for George W. Bush. And I thought it was GLORIOUS.
The closest election in our lifetime and in American History, real, live THIS WILL BE IN A BOOK OUR GRANDCHILDREN WILL ONE DAY READ history happened in my very first swing of the bat. This is what politics is all about! I called my mom and my dad well past poll closing hours: “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?! AMAZING!!” Tim Russert doing calculus on his whiteboard. 50 Shades of Florida. Over and over, with Gore and Bush-heads yelling back-and-forth at the Syracuse University dorms, all abluster and ablaze over the fate of the free world literally hanging (by a Chad) in the balance!
In the end, my guy won, I guess, though I wasn’t particularly enthused by the selection. See, when you’re choosing between Pepsi and Coke, nobody wins, because ultimately, neither are very good for you and they both taste pretty much the same.
So when it came back to 2004, and George W. Bush was busy rolling tanks into the mud of every other country and tanking everything in this country into the mud, I was looking for an alternative. Somebody, anybody who would pull this system out of neutral and start pushing for real, honest-to-goodness change. And I found that man. Only he wasn’t running. Here he is, making this riveting speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:
I mean, listen to this:
“Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
That is the true genius of America — a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles:
– That we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm.
– That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door.
– That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe.
– That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted at least, most of the time.
This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and our commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations.”
Ahhh, yes. Barack Obama. All of 42 years old. I bet my dad $20 he’d be our next president.
But Barack Obama was not running for President that year. Oh, no. John Kerry, the stiffest, stuffiest, swankiest Dem they could pull from Central Casting got the nod, and he was as bland as a spoonful of mayo. When it came time for me to pull the lever in 2004, I walked into the voting machine and ticked off a blank row in a blank column. I voted. For nothing. I didn’t even have the creativity to write in Mickey Mouse. I was 22 years old and already burnt out on politics.
When it came time for Barack Obama to flex his muscle and become president, I was a bit conflicted, as I had spent most of my lifetime admiring his adversary, John McCain. McCain is an engaging, amiable sort. He takes no B.S., but if he has to, he’ll sprinkle some sugar on it to make it go down smooth. I’d have been tickled if he’d garnered more support from the Republican establishment in 2000 and become the party nominee then. His bi-partisan McCain-Feingold Bill, to a youngster, seemed like a positive step to ending Washington corruption. But it’s later, and it’s safe to say the problem hasn’t been solved.
Still, I couldn’t ignore Barack Obama and the “Washington Outsider” conjecture, a man of mixed ethnic background riding in on a white horse to save the nation from rich, white, good ol’ boy politics. A man who spoke of “hope” and “change” and things that everyone in the Millennial Generation so desperately wanted to hear after growing up and jaded with nearly a decade of Bush – a decade so loaded with economic, civil, foreign and cultural unrest even Ambien couldn’t put it to bed. So I voted for Obama. And in eight years, I went from Republican to Disaffected Republican to Scab Republican.
And my Dad still owes me $20.
And the midterm elections were the last straw.
I decided to stop talking about politics at this time because the discourse became so emotionally-charged and uncivil that it was impossible to debate real people on real issues without getting bogged down in verbal grenades from the right, left and center. Somehow, everyone had ideas and all of them were awful. Reasonability was put to death-by-drowning in concrete shoes.
After 2008 came a Niagara of hate-fueled, intolerant, backwards, anti-intelligentsia the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 19th Century. A mountainous deluge of Microwavable Closed-Minded Talking Points that highlighted everything that’s wrong with today’s Republican Party and nothing I fell in love with.
You want to read something beautiful? Something American? Something idealistic, practical, ambitious and tolerant all that once? Read this. It’s Dwight D. Eisenhower and the 1956 Republican Party Platform, and it’s within which most of my political views are contained.
Want to read something else? Read this. This is Eisenhower, again, talking about not only what makes for great leadership and a great America, but also what we as Americans should one day be wary of, three days before he left the office of U.S. President after eight largely successful years. These words include this famous pull-quote:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
By the way, before he was President, Eisenhower was a 5-Star General. This is military wary of military. These prophetic words carry real weight.
And these words are a far cry from what the Republican Party has devolved into today.
The overwhelming majority of the Republican Party of today … the LOUD part, anyway, the part that provides most of the cringe-worthy soundbites, offers a pretty tasteless base upon which a crumbling facade stands.
They do NOT believe all people were created equal.
They still believe women are subservient to men.
They believe women are incapable of managing their own bodies.
They believe women should not be paid equal to men.
They believe gays should not marry.
They believe evolution IS NOT REAL.
They believe climate change IS NOT REAL.
They believe urban blight is product of laziness, based on nothing more than an unfair stereotype placed upon the poor and ESPECIALLY upon African-Americans.
They believe we need easy access to automatic weapons to PROTECT OURSELVES. (From what? Other people with easy access to automatic weapons?)
They believe Christianity is the ONE TRUE reality, and that the bible is a documentary and not a series of faith-based allegories. (Which, in the Catholic Bible, it specifically states not everything contained within The Good Book really happened.)
They believe Muslims are Terrorists.
They are arming themselves for a coming U.S. Civil War.
They believe overcrowded prisons, understaffed law enforcement, overrun borders and underfunded patrol are not a result of a failing War On Drugs, but a result of the “Decline of American Values.”
They believe we should close our borders, even though our country only exists and became the beautiful thing it is today because our borders have always remained open.
They believe the wealthy pay their “fair share”, despite GDPs of entire nations are being locked up in trust tax-free by the wealthiest 1%, while social programs and the poverty-stricken gasp for air.
They eliminated the words “Executives,” “Affluent”, “Corporation” from the Webster dictionary and replaced them all with the awe-inspiring catch-all placeholder “Job Creator.” As in, “How will this benefit the ‘job creators?'” PEOPLE, JOBS ARE CREATED OUT OF THIN AIR BY THE WEALTHY OUT OF THE GOODNESS AND KINDNESS OF THEIR BLESSED HEARTS.
They believe Barack Obama, our sitting president, IS NOT AMERICAN. They also happen to care what religion he is.
I gave up. I listened to it all. Tried to reason with it. Let it marinate. Let it linger. I bargained. I argued. I ran with “socially liberal / fiscally conservative” for a while. I tried to say “I will lead the Republicans back to the center with a ‘common sense’ approach to government.” But it’s too late. All my talking points have been usurped and purged by a frenzied base that believes the United States of America is a Christian Theocracy Under Jesus where everyone speaks English, women are babymaking factories, white people own everything and science exists in a mystical realm apart from reality.
When I moved to Texas (coincidentally), I stopped being a Republican. I still follow Republicans. I still associate with Republicans. Hell, I still VOTE for some Republicans. But I am no longer a Republican.
But don’t get excited, Democrats, I’m not too fond of you, either.
It’s 2012. I’m almost 30. Where am I? Where are we?
Same place we always are. In flux.
On the one hand, I’ve stopped caring about the political process. I’m older, and the idea that the color tie of the man in the White House or in my district’s chair is going to dictate how my life will be lived over the next four-to-eight years and potentially longer grows more ludicrous by the day. When you were young, it didn’t matter who the babysitter was, the key piece of information was “Honey, we’re going to be gone tonight.” The identity of the caretaker made negligible difference. Ice Cream it was. Lots of it.
And to be honest, why bother? Nobody’s watching the debt clock. Nobody’s in any hurry to objectively measure what a person’s “Civil Rights” actually constitute. There’s no VP of Common Sense, no Washington Ombudsman. If the only people with the capability of watching over the watchers are folks with their own agendas and ideologies and targets to hit, I mean … does it matter?
I’ll tell you who it matters to: It matters to the people running. It matters to their egos. History is made by those who have the audacity to believe that their version of “progress” is true progress. And they’ll know whether that’s true instantly, because the feedback loop is perpetual. Because the political meritocracy is based purely upon “Can they get (re-)elected?” It’s the only scorecard that matters.
And it’s the wrong scorecard.
I can’t list the number of reasons why. It’d be 20,000 words in and of itself. The slimeball, back-room, smoke-and-mirrors funhouse of Washington is too handdrawn and self-devouring for M.C. Escher to even touch. It’s its own ever-expanding blob that for every new wrinkle, drifts further away from popular consent. Our representative government, the more people who wish to parade along with it, becomes less representative with each passing minute of the 24/7 news cycle. Solving problems efficiently and effectively is actually the opposite of what government wants because it would put them all out of work!
I’ll try not to take credit for this, because I believe I’ve read it somewhere, but I googled it and can’t find it anywhere, but there’s a saying, “If you think you should be in politics, you probably shouldn’t.” I agree with that. There’s something inherently ego-maniacal about someone who thinks they have the vision, the cunning and the entitlement to charge themselves with the task of leading a geographically-defined group into the future. Something positively self-indulgent about being “The Right Person” for the job of governing everyone else. Yes, the system frames our government – but ultimately it takes people to make that system go and keep it in place. You are governed because someone else has decided to govern you, and was elected or appointed because you preferred that person to someone else who made that same decision. Do not forget that.
The system succeeds because there will always be an endless supply of megalomaniacs who wish to rule others – make no mistake, they are not serving. That’s a euphemism. They are ruling … except for one small problem: they only think that they are.
You see, the elected and appointed officials in Washington and even on local levels aren’t the ones making the real decisions, but are rather mediums and conduits for the truly powerful almighty rulers: The wealthy and the righteous. Banks and churches run the world. Don’t believe me? Name me a war that was fought without a monetary and/or ideological incentive. Not a backwoods war like the Hatfields and McCoys. Not a citizen’s uprising like what we saw during the Arab Spring. An actual, labeled, armed conflict. Go ahead. Name ONE.
And what they do – the banks and churches – is they feed their ideas, their agendas, their doctrines, to lobbies and interest groups and media and elected officials and their staffs and their incestuous public/private sector yo-yos and create the platforms upon which the status quo sits perched. And they let the public faces of the agenda take the credit and they reap the public rewards for it. That’s the part that makes the whole system work! The endless parade of egos actually are led to believe that the whole charade is their idea!
And it’s because of this, because of this realization that the entire system is a morally-bankrupt, self-entitled key party where everyone’s too busy checking out how they look in the mirror instead of keeping their eyes on the people they’re joylessly fucking ad infinitum, that I realize that small government is a myth. It will never exist. It’s a spit-shined folk tale used to comfort kids at bedtime when they lay awake wondering if there will be enough left for them when they get older.
Small government can only come from altruism, a legitimate interest in serving the needs of others without expecting anything in return. It runs counter to the egoism that is our political system. It is possible only in a vacuum.
But I will close with this: It is our job to create that vacuum. Because creating an environment that fosters altruism, a legitimately harmonious world where people serve each other to the mutual benefit of all mankind, that’s really on us, because the status quo isn’t capable of creating it for us … and because this altruism is really all that matters. It is everything that matters. Because it’s about preservation, which is a term the neo-cons co-opted into something that means something it should not. Preservation does not mean preservation of traditional values and ideas, but of life and free will.
I believe people should have a level playing field, and a free one at that. One where they can be allowed to fail without fear of losing their lives, but one where they’ll be held accountable when they choose to harm others. I believe in a small government that has an obligation to fix societal ills within the constraints of a finite (and reasonable) budget and finite resources, not ‘fix’ other nations whose beliefs don’t closely align with ours. A government’s only obligation is the preservation of life. The preservation of liberty. The preservation of happiness, and the expansion of all three is up to the people. We are the ones who must be accountable, ultimately, for our own success, and for our own future.
If that sounds like a far-fetched pipe dream, well, you may be right. Pay me no mind and continue your tired talking points and noxious analysis of smoke-screen problems that are really just symptoms of a broken-down system led by bloated power-mongers.
But if you believe everyone should get a fair shake, and that government should produce ROI, and life should be preserved by any and all means except at the expense of life, could you kindly alert the leaders of the Republican Party? And the Democrats? And the whole D.C. populace? Or, anybody really?
Just don’t tell it to Eisenhower: He probably would’ve shrugged it off and just called it “Common Sense.”