18 February 2008

A Moderate Proposal

I've been interested in politics since I was five years old. I never watched Sesame Street--I watched C-SPAN. My life through college was already mapped out. Politics gave me direction. In high school, I was the weird one. And I mean weird. In a decidedly Democratic state and seemingly even more Democratic school district, I was the proud iconoclast, a Republican enthusiast like none had ever seen. I went as Rush Limbaugh for Halloween one year, Dan Quayle the next. Senior year I was voted (with no small contribution from my friends) most likely to overthrow the POTUS (who was Bill Clinton at the time it might help you to know). My friend and I crashed Young Republican meetings (and were sent on our way for being too young), I volunteered at Republican Headquarters, and I manned phone banks for Republican candidates. I knew I would major in Political Science in college--it was the only thing for me. I was thrilled to be accepted into Brigham Young University, a hotbed for Republicans just like me. It would be like coming home.

My mother humored me and even encouraged me to a small degree. She drove me to all of my functions. However, she assured me that my fire would diminish one day. Clearly, she was insane. She reminded me that she had been just like me in her day. This was the same woman who as a Boston teenager would sneak over with her friends to Democratic conventions and put Republican candidates' bumper stickers on every car in the parking lot. Not only do I still find this funny, but also highly illegal. She was a firecracker. She has mellowed, but she still has her moments. At the time though, I knew I would be different. I would never mellow and I liked it that way.

And then I went to college. My Freshman year went well enough. Most of my PoliSci classes were 100-level courses and students from all over the university had to take their pick of them as well in order to graduate. As I progressed through to my Sophomore year and closer to my Junior year, I noted that the concentration of hardcore Republicans increased. Made sense. These were the people who were going all the way and not dropping out like 90% of PoliSci Freshmen wind up doing. But the intensity and fervor with which they spoke began to bother me. I remember thinking during one of my classes, "Holy crap, these people are freaks." By Senior year, my opinion of my fellow classmates was solidified. On my best day of high school I could never have held a candle to these people. I found their dogmatic beliefs alarming and bordering on the absurd. Surely no rational person allowed mere political opinions to dictate every single facet of their lives? Apparently they do.

I recall one Junior year class I took (Political Action Committees and Grassroots Campaigns) in which Utah's 3rd Congressional District (Utah County) Representative to the US Congress, Bill Orton, came as a guest speaker. Orton, a Democrat, was a three-term candidate. My class and professor, rabid Republicans all, absolutely hated him. As it turns out, the professor invited Orton as a means to get his class riled and badmouth the representative after he'd left. For those of you who don't remember Orton or never heard of him, he was indeed a Democrat, but in name only. He could give most Republicans a run for their money in a Who's More Conservative contest. He voted the way his mostly Republican constituents wanted him to vote. He was censured on a constant basis by his party for refusing to vote along party lines and he was rejected for a lack of party loyalty. When a student asked why he was a Democrat, he said not only is it nearly impossible to get a spot on the Republican ticket in Utah (the Democratic side being wide-open of course), but his family, whose LDS heritage dated back to before Brigham Young's time, had always been Democrats and that's just how he was raised. [Side note: for those unaware, the LDS Church was originally exclusively Democratic. The new Republican Party at the time had only two platform issues: anti-slavery and anti-polygamy, i.e., anti-Mormon. Needless to say, the second issue didn't appeal to too many Mormons. In fact, Mormons hated the new Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, with a passion, going so far as to call him a baboon face, etc. It was only until a lack of political diversity, combined with polygamy, threatened to prevent Utah from becoming a state that Brigham Young divided the territory down the middle, instructing half to vote Republican and the other half Democrat. Utah finally attained statehood in 1896.]

Orton, despite being a better representative to his constituents than most would think despite not sharing their party, was ripped apart after he left the room. The professor began the "dialogue" by saying, "Doesn't he just make smoke come out of your ears?" They all hated him simply for being a Democrat, despite what he actually practiced in reality. It was then that I hated my classmates for their blindness and stupidity. Orton was defeated in the next election by Republican Chris Cannon, a man who used Mormons' paranoia about the government to his advantage. I still recall his campaign commercials that said (paraphrased), "I feel like the pioneers of old with the US government coming after us. We have to circle the wagons!" And Utah County fell for it. They deserve him.

By Senior year my political outlook on life had changed. I think it changed for the better. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ultra-conservative atmosphere in which I received my education, I had learned never to take anything at face-value. Things are not always as they seem in the political world, and more than anything, a political party doth not the candidate make. I learned that simply because a pundit or National Republican Committee chairperson tells you that you must believe in this or that specific platform issue in order to be a "true" Republican, doesn't make it so. I compare that to a Lutheran or a Baptist telling me I'm not a Christian because I don't believe the same things about a specific piece of doctrine that he does. I don't recall anyone ever copyrighting the terms "Christian" OR "Republican." I am one if I say I am.

I am TIRED of commentators acting as if "moderate" is a bad word. If there's one thing I remember distinctly from college, it is the political bell curve. Pundits would have you believe that there are voters on the right and voters on the left, with very few voters (i.e., "fence-sitting cowards") in the middle. Such is simply not true. The majority of voters in this country register in the middle with very, very few people being truly on the right or on the left (we call those people far right and far left--and for a reason as you can see). The people on the extremeties of the bell curve are just that: extreme. Thus, by definition, they are not the norm, as in, abnormal. They would certainly have you believe otherwise; nobody likes to be out there on a limb by themselves. However, it's just not the reality of the situation. The facts prove that a majority of voters are moderate in their political views by their own definition. That means that despite the extremists telling them that they aren't true Republicans or Democrats because they don't believe absolutely everything their chosen party reportedly subscribes to, they still register with one party or the other. Sometimes they're confused by what the "experts" tell them, wondering if they truly belong to either party at all, but they still maintain some identification with one or the other regardless. I suspect many a voter, wanting to truly identify with their party, believe the talk and automatically agree with many issues without giving it much thought; it's what their party believes in and they want to be a good party member so that's what they believe, too. The Party knows best.

Diana asked me if I had any solid views at all, what with my complaining about everything and everyone under the sun. I do. I am a moderate Republican. I also consider myself a very proud moderate Republican. I refuse to allow any idiot to accuse me of being a bad Republican because I believe in both national security AND the protection of our civil liberties. I am still a Republican even though I care about the environment and believe action needs to be taken on both a national level and an individual level to protect what we have. I recycle more than anyone else on our street, and on several other streets, too. Why does that make me a turncoat? If I believe that something needs to change in the healthcare system to allow each and every American the opportunity to good health care despite his economic circumstances, how does that make me a traitor to my party? Who said that only Democrats are allowed to care about such things? I am a registered Republican because many of the big-ticket issues I believe in still fall within the Republican camp. But not all. That's the beauty of choice.

Pundits like Rush Limbaugh have accused McCain of being a bad Republican because he is moderate. That's nice that he lives in his own personal fantasy world and all, but Rush is not the god of the Republican Party. McCain IS a Republican. Simply because he's different does not make him disloyal. I'll freely admit that I don't agree with everything McCain believes in. But that's to be expected. As moderates, we, along with most of the country, believe in a hodge-podge of issues and how best to deal with them. The chances of agreeing on every single one would be amazing. I dare say that not only is McCain a Republican, but he is a better Republican than Rush. McCain is right there in the middle with the rest of America; one would say almost a perfect representation of just what the average American actually is and how he/she actually thinks. "But if he isn't far right, how are we supposed to know what he stands for?!" Well, you could listen to him. I'm sure he'd be happy to tell you. If you agree with what he says, vote for him. If not, vote for Obama. If he's not on the ticket, move to Canada.

I liked McCain more when he was more moderate. Believe it or not, he has drifted to the right over the course of this campaign in an effort to appeal to Republican voters who may not recognize him as one of their own, especially when political commentators tell them he isn't. I haven't liked him as much since then, but I still like him more than others who are too far right to know what they're doing anymore. I liked Romney when he was a moderate, too. He was a real, average American then (well, minus millions of dollars that is). The fact that he abandoned everything he reportedly subscribed to just to get a spot at the top job is what made me turn on him. The candidates on the far right and the far left have little in common with the average voter. A Democratic voter today has more in common with a moderate Republican than he does with a far left candidate, and the same goes for Republicans. I would like to know just how long it's going to take candidates to figure that out and release the voting public from this strict right-left spell they've put us under.

As I told my brother, the Republican Party is not my religion and the Elephant is not my lord and savior. Politics is not religion. It's OK to change your views on things that don't quite fit what you believe in anymore. Despite what Rush or Glenn Beck assert, you will not find yourself in Hell because you don't believe everything they do. I assure you that there will be both Republicans and Democrats in Heaven, and definitely both Republicans and Democrats in Hell. It's what you choose to do with your political beliefs, and the motivations behind them, that determine your place in history and in God's eyes. I guarantee the Lord doesn't care which political party you align yourself with as long as you are trying your best to do His will. After all, His teachings can be found on both sides of the political spectrum, can't they? Now get back out there, America, and do what you do best: sit in the middle. It's OK; I'm there, too.


Ryann said...

Abby, I am so glad that you wrote this. Up until now, I just thought that I was super ignorant in comparison with you. And now I know that you have ten plus years of political education behind you! Whew, that makes me feel a whole lot better:)

Benteti5 said...

I can't imagine be a PoliSci major at BYU. Pure torture. I grew up in Utah County, I know those types. I think my Dad was the only democrat in a five mile radius or something.
There are Republicans in heaven, get out? Where'd you hear that rumor?
I don't think McCain has changed. People don't change overnight. Only his words have changed, his actions will tell later. People will say anything to move up in the polls. You're right. I don't get why moderates have to pick if most of the country sits on the same fence.

judiroso said...

Thank you Abby for that dissertation. It is interesting to see your history since most of my experience with you included the Dan Quayle costume (well that and Adolf Hitler). I would say I agree with you in a lot of areas and disagree in some areas and isn't that great. Glad to know where you are coming from, now.

Abby said...

I'm always happy to brighten your day, Ryann. I enjoy debating topics with you; I've never noticed a difference between my current level of education on the topics and yours. You should give yourself more credit than you do.

I hope McCain is the same, as that is what drew me to him originally. It still bothers me that the system of things has forced him to say one thing when he believes differently, just to get a foot in the door. Irks me to no end.

Diana, I'm here to help. Glad you enjoyed it. And I think the Quayle costume was by far the best one out of my Halloween collection over the years. It was certainly the most detailed and accurate.

No dissertation from you in response?