I am not the 99 percent. Nor am I the 1 percent. I certainly am not one of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent. I am one of the 40 percent of American voters who the Gallup organization said identify themselves as independents — a record high in the history of the its surveys.
It hasn’t always been this way. I was reared in a Republican tradition. As a youth, I volunteered for Republican candidates in my native state of Maryland. I suspended all political involvement during the years I was a working journalist. However, when I closed the curtain in the voting booth, more often than not, my votes were cast in the GOP’s column. During the seven years prior to my joining the University of Kansas faculty, I worked in the administration of a moderate Republican governor in North Carolina. He was a good, decent man who achieved a lot by building bridges across party lines.
With this history as background, I drove to the Douglas County Courthouse this summer and switched my voter registration from Republican to unaffiliated. It was not a decision made lightly. However, it was absolutely necessary. After four decades as registered Republican, it had become obvious that the political party of my youth no longer represented my values. It was not so much a case of me leaving the Republican Party as it was of the GOP deserting me.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was Gov. Sam Brownback’s purge of Republican moderates during the recent primaries. Ironically, the self-proclaimed heirs of the Reagan revolution had forgotten the most important lesson left by the Gipper: You can’t lead (and win elections) without building a coalition. Many of the people who embraced President Reagan are now referred to as RINOs —Republicans in Name Only. As one who has been a Republican longer than most of the neocons now running the party, I find the moniker both insulting and un-American.
I tend to be a fiscal conservative and social moderate. That puts me in a position where I find myself sometimes agreeing and other times disagreeing with the GOP. There was a time in this country that these psychographics comfortably fit with the party’s structure. We were allowed to agree to disagree. It was our obligation to seek compromise. That was the American way. Unfortunately, that is not the case any more. The new “powers-that-be” demand political purity and blind obedience — an anathema to democracy.
I have not switched my party registration out of policy differences. In a healthy democracy, those differences can be resolved through creative debate and compromise. It is the unwillingness to seek common ground that caused me to exit the political party of my youth.
Some may ask why I haven’t rushed into the waiting arms of the Democratic Party? Sadly, it is, in many ways, a mirror image of the GOP. The Democrats are as intolerant of dissent within their ranks as are their Republican counterparts. The reality is that the party of Jefferson and Jackson is neither Jeffersonian nor Jacksonian. The tactics of MoveOn.org’s PAC are no less vitriolic and mean-spirited than Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC. There are no heroes in this morality play.
Now, I am a political free agent. And while the loss of access to party caucuses and primary elections has the effect of a self-inflicted disenfranchisement, at least I can look myself in the mirror in the morning with the knowledge that terrible things are not being done in my name. However, I also recognize the true tragedy of the American political environment. With 40 percent opting out of the traditional two-party structure, we are leaving the mechanisms of government in the hands of the polarized 60 percent more interested in imposing their will than leading by consensus.