Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Free agency arrives

At 9:01 p.m. on Tuesday, something of an earthquake took place in my political life.

In New York state, voters who change their party affiliation during the course of the year can do so at any time. However, it doesn't go into effect until after the next general election.

Therefore, the form I filled out in June went into effect at that point. Presto, I went from affiliated with the Republican Party to affiliated with no political party.

After 39 years of an association with the GOP, it was not a step I took lightly. But perhaps an explanation is in order in the hopes that it will point out a few important issues that should be part of the conversation on the Republican side, particularly as they deal with the after-effects of losing another Presidential election.

Yes, my parents were strong Republicans, so I had an initial bias that way. But as someone coming off age politically (meaning I could vote), I did identity with the Republican idea that government was not an answer to all of our problems. For as long as I could remember, I tended to associate the Democrats with throwing federal money at problems without much of a sign that it made much of a difference. Still, in hindsight I hoped I realized that there were several ways to get to a goal, and that discussion and compromise were part of the process.

I still think that way, but I found myself more and more in the minority in the Republican Party. As we rolled through the 1980's and 1990's, the voting machine looked as if I had thrown some M&M's at random at the keys when I was done with it, with all sorts of candidates represented. I did have a small bias toward Republican legislators and Democratic judges, since they seemed more inclined not to take much action toward many issues. So in other words, this switch that happened Tuesday will have little practical implication on my voting patterns.I still plan to be all over the place.

But in the past decade or so, I have grown more and more uncomfortably with the right-wing agenda of many Republicans, and their voices in the party have gotten louder.

Let's sum it up in a few issues. I don't attend church. I am pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage. I don't mind paying more in taxes if I'm convinced the reason is a good one. I have enough respect for our military forces to want them usually only when it is in our vital national interest. Working with all sides is the way to get good deeds done in our system; in other words, compromise should not be a sign of weakness.

When I hear Republicans talk about a return to "family values," I hear them say "my family values and no one else's." When I hear Republicans talk returning to the beliefs of our Founding Fathers (see the health care debate), I want to point out that our Founding Fathers initially didn't believe in the direct election of Senators, didn't let women vote at all, and considered blacks to be only three-fifths of a person. Circumstances change, people change.

Does it sound like Republicans want someone like me in their shrinking "big tent?" I don't think so. If I've learned one lesson over the years, it's "don't stay where you aren't wanted." A lot of people in the Republican Party don't want moderates around -- which is a great way to lose national elections.

I first thought about switching parties in 2008. The choice of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential candidate struck me as particularly dreadful. She was clearly unqualified to be President, and was only picked because John McCain needed someone to excite the base. Palin is clearly unqualified to make any remarks about the "lamestream media," particularly considering her reading habits. It was difficult to be associated with that choice even in a very small way, since people heard my party affiliation and made a wide range of (incorrect) assumptions about my views.

But it took the New York Presidential primary of 2012 to actually get me to look up the procedure on switching. The primary, at that point, was merely a symbolic gesture since Mitt Romney had the nomination wrapped up. But I couldn't vote for him. He had seemed promising to me once upon a time, but changed his views frequently in an obvious attempt to pander to more conservative elements of the party - especially in this second Presidential bid. Romney came off with a bored rich guy who needed something to do. Rick Santorum was far too conservative for me, and Newt Gingrich mixed a great deal of intelligence with megalomania. Jon Huntsman would have been acceptable, as he seemed like the adult at the table, but he wasn't on the ballot. I instead voted for Ron Paul in the primary. Paul has nine wacky ideas for every interesting one, but at least he's been consistent in his viewpoints.

It wasn't much of a choice. The next day, I went on line to look up how to change registration affiliations. And it was easy - print out a form and find a stamp.

Now, I'm a blank. I'm still not comfortable with all the Democrats represent. If people want to drink 32-ounce Big Gulps, I don't think government should stop them. Therefore, a non-affiliated listing is a good place for me - somewhere in the middle. In other words, I find both Sean Hannity of Fox and Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC partisan to the point of being unwatchable. I'll try to collect information and cast an intelligent ballot ... just like I do for the baseball all-star teams, the lacrosse awards, and the other important issues of the day.

My vote is now more up for grabs than ever, boys and girls of all political parties. You are invited to try to get it.

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