Wednesday, August 22, 2012


This year—or perhaps more accurately, this election cycle—I’m trying something new. During my most recent move, as I was going through all the various paperwork to live in a new place, I did something I’ve never done before. I registered as a Democrat.

For years, I’ve considered myself devoted to a nigh-Aristotelian mean-between-the-extremes way of doing ethics. Or, again more accurately, I have been devoted to the principle that I can learn from everyone in the world, and in particular that everyone in the world has valuable contributions to make to political discourse. I still believe everyone has wondrous things to teach me. But when I look at the social structures at play in our country, I do not see this principle extending to the political sphere.

More and more I find myself having to tune out far-right rhetoric as nonsense. I’m not talking about sound bites taken out of context and spun into jabs; I’m talking about going back to the sources, paying attention to the words that were said and the full setting in which they were said, and still not making any sense out of them. I’m talking about consistent distortion of facts and theories, twisting them beyond reasonable interpretation to fit them into specific schemas, which independently appear hopelessly parochial and short-sighted. I’m talking about the self-supporting structures of a community that considers itself besieged, and thus shutters itself in instead of reaching out, and retreats farther and farther into extremist positions that do more to uphold the particular community in its ill-informed convictions than benefit the nation as a whole.

On the other side, I see the left acting Christianly. I see them considering larger groups than just their immediate selves, or family, or church. I see them adopting those who have suffered in their lives, regardless of what positions such persons may have held previously (and more often than not, it seems that people who sat firmly on the right switch to leftist advocacy when they suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves in the place of those who formerly were “other”). From a non-religious perspective, I see them planning for the future, examining what is known and what may be guessed, not to be alarmist but to be prudent.

In addition, I see well-supported arguments, for example, that our current president holds positions that, up until ten years ago, would have placed him as a moderate Republican. Meanwhile the right demonizes him as an unprecedented “socialist” and “totalitarian” (without, I might add, commensurate support for their claims). Hard to take the claims of the right seriously in such a case.

In short, I became a Democrat because apparently that’s how one remains a centrist in the U.S. of A. these days. Many of you probably already assumed I was a Democrat. If so, then I guess I made the right choice. But I want you to know that it’s not because I’m an academic, or because I live in the Northeast, or because I’ve abandoned my Southern roots. It’s because I’ve weighed both sides, tried to stay in the middle, and determined that this is where I have to be.

Republican friends, you know I love you dearly. I know you’re thoughtful and good; I know you’re looking for what’s best for the people you care about. But I have trouble believing you look any farther than your immediate circle. Take a look at my political views on Facebook—as public a forum as I’ve ever stated them, apart from here—they read “the point is to get people to cooperate and to live well together.” Maybe you think that’s where my leftist roots started. But it’s still true; I still believe society exists for the benefit of the people in society. That means all people, and you haven’t convinced me that that’s where your interest lies. Please start basing your stances on the totality of what our nation must consider, and not just on what fits your personal worldview. Expand your world before you fear what is beyond it. And please, please stop nodding sagely when someone quotes philosophy almost directly from Ayn bloody Rand as though it were the height of political perspicacity.

Democratic friends, if I bear the same name as you now, don’t think I want to toe any party lines. You still have work to do in listening to your political rivals and understanding what they have to share that is of value. You, also, have to stop knee-jerk reactions to positions that may seem foreign to your ideology. Unity is stronger than diversity. So how do we forge e pluribus unum? It is not enough to reject tradition, reject authority, or reject the homogeneity it seems our political opponents would offer. The society that I have insisted exists for the benefit of its citizens does not exist without continuity. It will not do to twist the hearts of George Washington or Thomas Aquinas until they bleed. We must respect the statements made by our political, intellectual, and theological forebears, and consider the follow-ups made by our contemporaries, to see what it is that matters to them and how that can be woven into our view of American society, which is not ours alone.

I don’t think I’ve switched my allegiance to the left. I think that, in this country, the left has been forced to encompass the center, because the right has abandoned it as the enemy. I am not the only one who thinks this way. But I am the only one who can decide how I will vote. Until I have cause to side with a Republican candidate, I will vote Democratic.

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