[It started getting too long for a comment — I’m just so damn mouthy. Anyway, Boo, I’m really glad you started this line of thinking. I’ve been wanting to chart my own political history for a long time and this gave me the nudge. It’s long but there’s still so much more I could say…]
1972 Born on the day George Wallace was shot.
1976 4 years old. Living in Jacksonville, Florida. I think my family voted for Carter. My grandfather was from Georgia and we lived in North Florida. But it didn’t take long for me to pick up on the fact that people did not like Carter. He was the butt of many jokes.
1980, 1984 8, 12 years old. Living in Jacksonville, Florida. My family supported Ronald Reagan. To my still young mind this meant that we weren’t ideological or rigid. I knew that my Catholic family had supported John F. Kennedy. I figured we supported Reagan because he sounded like an amusing grandpa. He seemed strong and true and inspiring to America in need of inspiration. Parties did not mean much to me. Reagan was such a great actor (i.e., liar) that when his policies were cruel or when the Iran-Contra scandal arose the reactions I saw were either: (1) wanting to support Reagan no matter what or (2) believing that Reagan did not know any of the bad results, he only had good intentions. Looking back I think those were common responses at the time. And I believe that it harmed this country greatly.
1988 16 years old. Living in Jacksonville, Florida. We supported George Bush. The transformation was complete. Often today when people speak of the South going Republican racism is emphasized. You can believe me or not, but my family has never emphasized race. Even my grandfather, born in 1911 in rural Georgia, never spoke much about race. Which is not to say my family was liberal and open-minded. They were privileged and preferred the “natural order” of things (as they saw it). My family is also culturally conservative and anti-choice, a function of their strong Catholicism. That is the final reason why they reject the Democrats.
1992 20 years old. Attending Princeton University. My first Presidential election and I vote for Pappy Bush. I was very tradition-bound. I felt Bill Clinton was a yokel who oozed smarm. (Sometimes I still feel this way — about the smarm; he’s far too smart to be a “yokel” — but I have a very different view of politicians now.) I hated Southern men and I guess I didn’t care whether they were Republicans or Democrats. It was a class thing for me. (As we know it was for much of the Washington establishment — all I can say in my defense is at least I grew out of it!)
1996 24 years old. Did not vote. Still living in Princeton, lost aimless, disaffected. I thought all politics was a sham and I wanted no part in it.
2000 28. Voted for Ralph Nader. In Florida. Sorry, everybody. I was still viewing politics in a simplistic way that I think many fellow Americans do as well: as a personality contest. I did not realize then that my negative views of Al Gore were largely shaped by a media incredibly hostile to him. The Elian Gonzalez matter was horribly handled, I thought. And it seemed Gore was caught in the middle of that. Bush I did not like — there was the Southern accent thing again, but also I saw nothing about him worthy of high office. I was shocked that the establishment picked him solely based on his brand-name recognition. I thought he was a willful idiot, something I do not respect. I followed the primaries and rooted for McCain and Bradley. McCain really appealed to me then. I’m sort of embarrassed to say that now. But, again, I was unaware of how the news media’s love for him affected my feelings for him. I thought he was a bit of a straight-talker. Bradley I liked because of the Princeton basketball thing. And because I thought he was somewhat an outsider. But if Gore droned on, Bradley was Tylenol P.M. Again, maybe these personality things shouldn’t matter but realistically a candidate has to have wide appeal.
In the general I started to notice the media’s bias against Gore. I felt that they treated Bush with kid gloves — I could glean that many news reporters were genuinely shocked at Bush’s lack of qualifications, intelligence and gravitas. I mean, didn’t you? Couldn’t you see the news media weighing in their mind how tough to be on him and thinking, “If we hammer him too hard we’ll be accused of liberal bias, but we know he’s out of his league. So we’ll have to use two standards in this race: one for Gore and one for Bush.” (The media was harder on Palin but it was easier to do so since she was #2 on the ticket. It sounds crazy and paradoxical, but if the majority of GOP primary voters choose an idiot as their standard-bearer, it’s hard for the media to challenge that.) I honestly think all the media believed Gore would win and they just wanted to give him a hard time and be seen as fair to the frat boys/Bushies. I still felt highly conflicted and had dreams of electoral reform, Third Parties, protest votes, … I voted for Nader because I admired his strong principles.
Living in Florida I had a front-row seat to the problems of 2000. I had a bad feeling about Bush. I mean, I had a shallow sense that I did not like Gore’s personality but I had no fear of his policies. I thought Gore would continue the good years under Clinton. Even though I never voted for Clinton I was happy with the majority of his policies and I was not bothered in the least by Monicagate. The impeachment made me dislike the Republicans more — my inner liberal was coming out. The other thing slowly coming out was me, out of the closet. I had been devoting untold energy into fooling myself that I was straight. Another good excuse for my poor decision-making: my brain was preoccupied in a war with itself. I believe this dynamic to be at play with certain extreme-conservatives today. Ultra-religious types are always looking to judge wrong-doing in others and themselves… it’s like a mental disorder! How can you function reasonably when you are preoccupied with hidden transgressions?
Bush’s presidency began stupid and lackluster. I thought we’d be rid of the doofus in one term. I might have never turned into a hardcore Democrat if it weren’t what happened next…
Bush has turned quite a few fence-sitters and former Republicans into committed Democrats. We must never forget that fact when we despair at seeing the over-covered Tea Partiers all up in arms. Very few of them were ever available voters for a Democratic candidate, much less a black one. Some are available. Some economically down-and-out are so angry and discouraged that they may not know what to do or whom to turn to. There are a few possible pick-ups in the angry Tea Party mob. But a very few. There are far more folks like me and my boyfriend — people who once would have said, “I don’t care about party; I vote for the candidate I like and trust” and now say:
“The Republicans are 50% crazy and 50% incompetent and 100% narrow-minded and 200% greedy. I will never vote for one, even if he seems reasonable, because we need to tip the balance towards sane and working government in this country. And for now that means Democrats only.”
So I don’t need to tell you how I voted in 2004 and 2008. I’ve changed and, while I look back (like I’m doing here today) I’m not going back. I’m willing to look back and reexamine my positions because I am not a member of a cult. I vote for Democrats, even ones I do not like such as my Senator Bill Nelson, with a full awareness of the limitations of our system. I campaigned hard for Barack Obama, even after he let me down on FISA. I knew he wasn’t perfect.
Would I ever vote for a third-party reformer like Nader again? Not and throw away my vote. The thing that irritates me so much about Nader is that he has made no effort to create a movement. If after 2000 he focused on a widespread movement to effect electoral reforms, such as Instant Runoff Voting or proportional representation or fair redistricting or Senate reforms… if he had shown an interest in any of these types of things which could make a difference in this country then I would not have lost my respect for him. But he only acted to bolster his own position.
I do still believe that reforms to our electoral system are needed. I end therefore with a motto which I would like to see adopted by more in this country:
Fight all year long for electoral reforms, better candidates and a fairer system. But on election day, VOTE DEMOCRATIC!