Sunday, March 23, 2008

Are Democrats Smarter than Republicans? And how I made the long transition from republican to democrat

Well, of course Democrats are not necessarily smarter than Republicans. But that question has crossed your mind as well, I'm sure of it, admit it. Maybe not that exact question, maybe it was: "Are Republicans smarter than Democrats?" That was the form of the question I originally asked myself. I still remember my Yuma days sharing the roof with my John Birch Society member dad. I can't remember where I heard the quote, but I still remember the thought that at the time made a lot of sense to me, and I'll paraphrase it badly: "If you're not a democrat before age 30, you have no heart, if you're not a republican after age 30, you have no brain." That's basically the thought anyway.

Well, I guess I have no brain and no heart because almost the exact opposite happened to me. I am now officially a registered Democrat. I would have never in my wildest dreams have thought that that was possible ten or twenty years ago, but here I am.

How did this happen? Well, let's start from the beginning. I'm pretty proud of my political biography, so you'll have to have patience with me as I take you on this self-indulgent journey. Actually, looking back, maybe I am not so proud. It's not like I really participated in anything politically substantive. Primarily I have been a casual observer of national politics, presidential politics, foreign affairs. Here am I, a little guy from Yuma, Arizona having spent considerable energy on issues that I have absolutely no influence over (unless you believe in the philosophies describe in the movie, The Secret where all of this energy can be harnesses almost supernaturally to influence events far out of my apparent physical control, aka, if you wish for something bad enough it comes true).

Did I also mention I was a sports fan. Isn't there something eerily similar to being a sports fan and being a presidential politics fan. Here's a really great quote I found in a Bill Simmons article who was quoting Roger Angell in an article he wrote for the New Yorker in "Agincourt and After":

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look -- I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring -- caring deeply and passionately, really caring -- which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete -- the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball -- seems a small price to pay for such a gift.

Really, couldn't you almost substitute professional sports fan with presidential candidate fan, sports nut with political nut, and the quote almost makes as much sense? Really isn't there something nonsensical about the hysteria right now over Barack Obama in much the same way people go crazy over the Chicago Cubs?

And another thing, why is the caring gone out of our lives. It really shouldn't be. If we could just man up (to use a phrase my wife recentl y hurled at me), and face our problems we do have control over, like our families, our communities, our churches, than maybe we would be better off as a society. But I digress. Back to my self-indulgent narration.

I honestly can't remember how I started becoming political. I have some memories. Reading one article in the Reader's Digest about the Cuban autrocities (?), I'm unclear, and having this palpable and poignant emotion about wanting to help those people. Before that even, I have vague memories of the Jimmy Carter years, mainly just high gas prices, and my dad blaming Carter for them...

I remember clearly watching the 1988 Republican convention and cheering in my living room when Bush said "Read my lips, no new taxes". (Again eerily similar to the real tears I cried when the NY Mets were about to be beat by the Red Sox, and then the overwhelming joy I felt when the ball went through the legs of Bill Buckner and the NY Mets won the World Series and I won the $1 bet I made with my friend).

Or reading in the Reader's Digest about Willie Horton for the first time and how desperate I felt that everyone needed to know the name Willie Horton so that none of us will have to live in fear of having a man as president, Michael Dukakis, who would forlough all of our dangerous criminals.

And it wasn't all just frivolous partisanship, I had some real substance behind my beliefs. I saw in a very real way, the evils of communism, Stalin's atrocities, being every bit as bad as Hitler's. I anguished as a senior in high school over the Tieneman Square events in China. I saw Ronald Reagan as a fearless defender of freedom who stood up for democracy and stood down the evil empire.

I wrote a high school term paper on why we should support the Nicaraguan contras against the evil Sandanistas. I was an avid pro-lifer (still am really), and felt like the economy would hum a long much better if government stayed the hell away from it. In my freshman year of college, I took an economics 101 class where the professor analyzed and praised the economic policies of Ronald Reagan.

My politics stayed with me as I went on a mission to Alabama. I remember talking to our ward mission leader after Bill Clinton won and his very real agony over it and how we both agreed that this was the fulfillment of prophecy that in the last days wicked men would ruin our nation. We nodded in sad and fearful agreement.

In the late 1980's and 1990's, Rush Limbaugh and AM talk radio really took off and just in time too, to cover every Clinton scandal in excrutiating detail. I was there for all of it. I could not believe how someone as evil as Bill could get away with so much. I voted and campaigned hard (well tried to convince all of my friends) to vote for Bob Dole.

Things really started to turn ever so slightly, after college. Just as I was starting my career in software perfectly timed with the beginnings of the internet boom (1996), while many of my more better in-tune peers were dreaming of San Jose startups, I was thinking, it's time to expand myself in the arts. I had at various times, season tickets at the Phoenix Art Museum, started poetry reading groups with friends, attended First Friday poetry readings at the locally owned bookstore in Tempe.

I still remember some of the more poignant art exhibits I saw over those post-college, pre-marriage years. An exhibit where an artist asked a number of friends and acquaintances to send an object that they were willing to give away but had some significance to them. How each of those objects were placed in a plastic bag hung from a wall in a symetrical grid with descriptions under each describing why the object had significance to the person. Or an exhibit I saw in New York City consisting of a booth. A person was invited into the booth where they could write someone a letter of gratitude or of apology. If an address was included, the artist would mail the letter each night for the person, if not, the letter would be burned. The person (me for example) as they were writing the letter would become part of the exhibit as others looked on. There were many, many others like these.

And then there were little experiences I had that gave me a glimpse that maybe my own views weren't so clear-cut correct.

Right after college, I went on a trip to visit my sister in Manhattan. On that trip, I still remember sitting there listening in on a conversation she and her friend were having on the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. I think her friend was a doctor? Anyway, they strongly condemned Reagan's unwillingness to do anything about it as a reason for its spreading. I remember that conversation really shaking me, because in my view, Reagan was right up there with Lincoln and Washington.

Another experience I had that I remember clearly that wasn't so obviously political, but it was. I was at the Mesa Easter pageant with my parents, there early with our dinner in order to get a good seat, and I purchased my first ever edition of The Atlantic Monthly for some reading companionship while we waitied, my parents aren't always the best conversation companions, and they and I were often perfectly content while I read and they waitied. Well, that day, I read this article. It's about the greatest pickup basketball player in America. Having never read really read writing like this before, writing about a quirky topic, covered in a really deep way, I was literally blown away.

Later, my job changed and I had the opportunity to do a lot of business travel. On on those trips, I started reading the Atlantic Monthly regularly, and magazines like it, The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Economist, the heady magazines you can still find at an airport. I even alternated subscriptions between the Atlantic and the New Yorker. I also started listening to NPR almost obsessively. AM talk radio dropped away in favor of NPR because it was so much smarter, the ideas shared were so much better. And quite literally, I felt like I was part of the national conversation with really deep, smart people even if I was just listening it. It was invigorating.

The problem is that these magazines (with maybe the slight exception of The Economist) and NPR are all left leaning. Argue with me if you want about NPR, but it is. The shows are biased pretty significantly in that direction and slowly, over time, my politics changed. I wouldn't say that looking I was every really wrong in my views. Naive, definitely. Were my views narrow and uninformed. Yes. But I can generally remember why I believe they way I did. I understand my arguments, and I generally still believe them. But I have added to them much more nuance, depth, and sophistication (at least that's my view). And a political belief that is nuanced, with depth and intellectual sophistication puts you, and I'm sorry to say this, squarely in the mainstream of the democratic party.

And my question is this: why is that. Why are there so many smart magazines and media sources that lean left, but so few that lean right? Tell me one that is. I am sure they are out there. I felt at first the Atlantic would be, but it isn't. These periodicals are all balanced, fair, and maybe with the slight exception of the New Yorker or more especially Harper's, are only moderately left.

I have made efforts to find balance. AM talk radio has a few hosts that are smart, Hugh Hewitt being the most notable in my opinion, but most of them are partisan blow-hards. The National Review can be smart, but much of it, in my opinion, just isn't up to the same standard. I do read and admire some conservative syndicated columnists, in fact they are among my favorite, David Brooks, George Will, but they all write for either the NY Times or the Washington Post, both newspapers are slanted left. Again, I am sure there's something out there, and I am really interested in reading it because I really do want all sides of an issue.

Well, even after most of this left leaning media influence, I was still a registered Republican for much of it. I was registered Republican even as I voted for John Kerry over G. W. Bush in 2004. But the Bush administration has had a negative conservative influence on me just as the media was having a positive liberal influence.

Because for the first time Bush, in so many ways, was actually trying to implemented policy that before him were mainly only talked about but never really fully acted upon. And they were not just talked about on the campaign trail, but in backyard barbecues in the Southeast by a bunch of red neck conservatives. Or by old-time military men on bases like those in Ft. Huachuca, AZ.

Things like, "man, if I were president, I would just go into Iraq and take out that S.O.B, Sadaam Hussein. We would all just listen and nod in agreement, probably thinking that nobody really would have the guts to act on it (and subconsciously thinking, and good thing).

But it wasn't just the Iraq war where Bush acted like this, it went from No Child Left Behind, to government funding to religious groups, to torture in Guantanomo, listening in on phone conversations, or attempts to privatize social security,...

But really the Iraq war is the best example of this. And it is an interesting issue for me because at first I was torn by it. Remember, in high school I wanted US involvement in Nicaragua. I knew what Hussein had done to the Kurds and other Iraqis. He had invaded Iran in the 1980's and Kuwait in the 1990's. I was 100% in favor of Bush Sr. decision to push Hussein back into Iraq then and I don't remember it now, but I probably would have been in favor of Bush Sr. taking Hussein out then.

But in the end I was against it, and in the end I voted for John Kerry for President 2004, and for Harry Mitchell for Congress and Jim Peterson for Senate in 2006, all Democrats. And now in 2008, I am not only a supporter of Barack Obama, I have canvassed neighborhoods for him, I have donated money to his campaign, I have even switched my political party to vote for him, and for now I am not switching back.

I want to write some more on this topic, but this is already getting a little long and unwieldy. I will write a part II later.


H said...

I don't think Democrats are necessarily smarter, just playing to a different crowd. The crowd with a heart AND a brain. I wrote a paper in college on third party politics...I'll have to go find it.

tempe turley said...

Helena, I'd be interested in reading it if you can find it.

Writermama said...

I think this post was very brave, how honest you were about your own personal journey re: political affiliation. Not everyone can admit they thought they were wrong, especially when they thought they were absolutely right.

I always think, and always thought Democrats are smarter than Republicans. Two words: Ann Coulter. I rest my case. (But Democrats have been known to make me groan, only when I think they're acting dumber than they actually are.)

But maybe Independents (with the exception of Joe Lieberman) are the smartest of all!