Dude, Where’s My Party ?

They say women talk too much.  If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.  ~Clare Booth Luce

I just renewed my license at the DMV and was once again asked to register to vote.  I reviewed my two choices – – the party of Pelosi, “we’re all going to get free healthcare” and “look, there’s an investment banker, get him!” or the party of Sarah “ run Nana, there’s a death panel truck” Palin, dyspeptic John Boehner – (actually can you even name five Republicans ?) and Blackwater. I checked the box marked: “Independent”.

Yes, I know that raising politics in a small town is tantamount to taking enriched uranium yellow cake out of your pocket and saying,  “check this out Bob, look what I made in my garage.”

The dictionary defines politics as “ the art and science of administration of government.“ It seems no one disagrees on the serial blunders of W (for some it takes several drinks) whose administration seemed to employ neither art nor science.  Somewhere along the way, compassionate conservatives became passionate conservatives.  (Where did the “com” go?) I still have close friends who stick by the Grand Old Party even though they are disgusted by the party’s state of affairs.  They act like someone whose family member was found to be a convicted serial killer, “ yeah, I know George killed 12 waitresses.  But hey, he’s family.”

Some could take it no longer and moved left into a new protectorate – one that talked of social equity (higher taxes) and tough love (higher taxes).  The migration away from the conservatives led to the election of a new President and some freshman blue dog legislators.  We tossed out a few tired, pieces of aged red and blue cheese who had been sitting on the Congressional counter too long. When the dust settled and the echoes of “yes, we can “ faded, suddenly Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were in charge.  Some intoxicated by the possibility of a course correction had not read the fine print that indicated these ardent ideologues came with the package.

Many moderates were drawn to the charisma of Obama and the possibility of change.  For others, it was less about moving toward something as it was the need to distance themselves from an ethos that had lost its allure. With the exodus of many Moderate GOPs to Blue Dog Dems, the Conservative Caucus lost critical mass and its chorus was diminished of gentler voices.  The former chorale suddenly screeched with bellicose arias and exaggerated solos of the party’s more hyper-orthodox prima donnas. When I now drive by the Grand Ole Party I see an angry lynch mob.  The GOP is spending less time telling me what it stands for and more time acing like Nostradamus portending our imminent doom.  It is not a party to which a Moderate would want to return.  It’s like seeing your former neighborhood go to hell.  The GOP that I knew – is gone.

My conservative friends regularly remind me that my move toward the left will expose me to a dogma that I never experienced in my moderate greenbelt.  And to a degree, they are correct.  I admit I do not feel at home among the Democratic Caucus.  My GOP pals smile assuming I am having second thoughts. My liberal friends encourage me to give it time. Like a child at his first sleep away camp, perhaps I am just homesick for my mother’s cooking.

I understand the Democrats anger and zealous desire to move with lightening speed to enact legislation that reverses, in their minds, years of great social inequities, visited by a testosterone charged administration that overspent and under-regulated. Dems know that 2010 midterm elections may swing the political pendulum back toward the middle – reducing the chances to pass health and immigration reform, tax increases and the expansion of entitlement programs.  Their clarion cry for equity and moral responsibility falls unevenly on a population that is suffering from a massive case of economic uncertainty.  We see an estimated $9T in public debt and a future where our children’s inheritance is a massive promissory note to foreign investors. It scares us to spend more.

After a year of hanging out with the Southpaws – I feel disingenuous. I do not track with all the high-fiving and grand plans for massive social change.  When we speak of focusing more on those who can’t help themselves and my need to pay higher taxes to finance vital repairs to a ragged social safety net, I am very supportive.  Yet, when the conversation turns to the cost of financing a dramatic transformation of healthcare, education, economic stimulus and immigration, I start to get a little uncomfortable.

My days of Macro and Micro Economics 101 flash back and I can not see how a fragile recovery can shoulder more public debt, higher taxes reaching into the middle class through pass through assessments and a continuation of “put off until tomorrow” monetary policies.  No one is talking tough choices, personal responsibility or austerity.  I start to get nauseous and leave the Donkey’s lair to get some air.  Nobody really notices I am missing.  So what do I stand for?

I subscribe to the ancient Greek saying, “the mark of a great society is when old men plant trees that they know they will never rest underneath.” I believe if you do not have the money to buy what you want, you must pull in your belt and purchase only what you need. I think everyone should have a roof over their head but not everyone should own a home. To quote one pundit, ” if 15% of Americans were homeless, we would not solve the problem by putting the other 85% in Federal Housing.”

I believe “a great society is defined by how it takes care of the least among them.”  The dividends of free market capitalism do not fall evenly on all heads like soft rain. When people fail they do not always reinvent into better versions of their former selves. People don’t “go out of business”, they need a hand up or become wards of a system – a criminal justice or welfare system.  When the economy tanks, it is often the most vulnerable among us that suffer. Its up to us to decide what kind of system we can afford to offer and how we can finance these vital entitlements with a dollar for dollar reduction in non-essential government spending.

If we do not make some tough choices, we could end up with sustained double-digit unemployment, hyperinflation and social unrest. Many politicians simply lack the political will to acknowledge this dangerous climate change.

The best domestic and foreign policy is to create a viable consumer class.  A rising tide of prosperity lifts all boats and drowns out the bellicose extremists that seek to advance agendas ranging from authoritarianism, communism, social Darwinism -any theology that divides people while centralizing power.  Americans are spoiled.  They do not take the time to learn the facts and want rapid resolution.  We don’t live well with pain. We gorge on the empty carbohydrates of TV and radio sound bites.  Charisma and character are often confused.

I am ticked off at Republicans and Democrats for so completely abandoning a doctrine that promised reduced deficits, effective regulation and social investment that expanded the middle class.  We were not supposed to preside over a period where the economic chasm between those at the top and the bottom of society exponentially expanded.

So who do we hold culpable? The Dems want their incumbents (rap sheets and all) reelected.  Meanwhile, the Party of W presided over massive increases in our public debt and now suffer from collective memory loss saying its all Obama’s fault.  A few are even showing grainy photos of what looks like the President firing RPGs with Osama Bin Laden while on holiday in Karachi.   If it were up to me, I would toss the lot of them out on their ear.  Who is buying this garbage?

As someone who still clings to aspirations to leave the world a better place than when I came into it, I am flummoxed. I scan the political horizon line for fresh faces that attempt to honestly frame reality while at the same time having the political courage to attempt to change it.  It’s grim.

Am I a Libertarian? A Populist?  A Demoindependican? My political meandering seems to piss everyone off. I have been accused of being a bleeding heart liberal, an idealistic windsock, a Republican in sheep’s clothing or a political ronin – you name it. Most are usually quick to tell me why an idea won’t work but tend to stumble when asked to offer a viable solution.  It isn’t easy stuff.  Is Obama really a closet socialist hell-bent on massive income redistribution or is he a neophyte liberal politician with incredible charisma whose desire for greater social equilibrium is running into a two party buzz saw that categorically refuses to split the solution down the middle? Is he in control of a headstrong Democratically controlled Congress or is he painfully learning on the job?  Is he Valdemort or Voltaire ?

So here I sit – an Independent.  Do we Independents have a mascot? May be we could choose an eagle – strong, resilient and self-sufficient.  Are eagles taken? Are they, like the Independent, still endangered? Other than Joe Lieberman, I actually don’t know any Independents.  Where do they hang out?  Do we have a convention? Or at least a clubhouse with a small gym?

As I sit with my chin in hand on the proverbial curb, the great red and blue political machines churn, polish, manage and crank out Teflon candidates to challenge one another’s incumbents.  And I can’t find a single member of my new tribe.

Dude, where’s my party?

DemoIndependican

Demoindependican

 

Politicians are like diapers.  They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.  ~ Author Unknown

 

It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized I had grown up in a house fashioned from most hardened political timber.  Its primary architect, my Father, was a highly intelligent self-made Midwesterner who believed hard work could overcome any obstacle.  He loved America, loathed its enemies and routinely exercised his right as a citizen to write letters to public officials and the “liberal” media, expressing his support for or disappointment in a particular piece of legislation or editorial. 

 

America in the late ’60s was ablaze with Vietnam, racial tension and civil disobedience.  Fear and anger permeated the ranks of the men in the gray flannel suits.  It was driven into our heads that government and its social programs were like weeds – if not pulled and pruned, they choked the growth of our economic garden.  Social Darwinism was an inconvenient fact.  America?  Love it or leave it!  North Dakota would be a nice, out-of-the-way place to shoot those who burn the American flag.  Personal responsibility and a strong work ethic were building blocks of society’s DNA.  This brand of conservative libertarianism drew heavily on the political views of Friedrich Hayek, who argued in The Road to Serfdom that any form of collectivism would eventually disintegrate into dictatorship and tyranny.  I did not know it at the time, but I was a Republican.

 

If you’re not Liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not Conservative when you’re 35, you have no brain.  ~ Attributed to Winston Churchill

 

Upon attending college in the early ’80s, I took a political left turn.  I became aware of the underbelly of capitalism and the social ills that ran through the gutters of a free market society.  I was outraged at the institutional prejudice and fascism of the Reagan administration which was perpetuating poverty and protecting wealth.  I was convinced “the man” was to blame.  The fact that “the man” was paying my college tuition did not seem to hit my radar.  My predictable plunge into liberal politics was tolerated like a sort of ugly rash.  My flummoxed father couldn’t comprehend how a conservative liberal arts college that spawned Henry Kravis and Peter Drucker could have allowed enough intellectual rope for my brain to become ensnared by neoclassical welfare theory.  

 

I think my Mom understood the real cause of my ideological U turn: most of the good-looking girls in college were Democrats.  I had become a political chameleon, switching colors from red to blue faster than my lava lamp.  Half the time, I had no idea where my argument was going as I spun great swirls of meaningless mental cotton candy.  I brought home a succession of ’60s retro girlfriends who listened to The Grateful Dead, spiked trees and laid themselves across railroad tracks purported to be transporting nuclear waste. 

 

To my father, I might as well have defected to Havana.  What he did not know was that like The Manchurian Candidate, certain words or triggers would plunge me into a conservative flashback.  I had become a political schizophrenic.  I was over watered by “trickle down economics,” blinded by a “thousand points of light” and left wondering what I should do for my country instead of asking my country what it could do for me.

 

There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.  ~ Alexis de Tocqueville

 

After marrying and moving to San Francisco, I was aroused by the orthodox liberal theory of Northern Californians and their broad inclusive agenda.  I learned that we Southern Californians had been stealing their water, polluting their environment and ignoring the warning signs of the imminent social apocalypse for years.  I apologized and became very active in the community.  However, as I rubbed elbows with anarchists, nihilists and liberals that made Jimmy Carter look like Hermann Goering, I kept feeling the imposter.  I realized my innate values were incongruous with the views of those who secretly longed for a collectivist society.  I kept thinking of Hayek and, being a student of history, believed that a free market, capitalistic society was a more reliable path to economic prosperity, creating a greater opportunity to address civilization’s deep warts.

 

The missing piece was personal responsibility – from those who needed to help themselves and from those where much had been given, much was expected.  Business and individuals needed to fill the void created by a diminished role of government.  If people failed in delivering on this implied social contract, the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” would only increase, and political upheaval would accomplish what a well-intentioned but self-absorbed society could not.  I felt uncomfortable among mainstream Democrats and Republicans.  I considered myself an Independent, but the likes of Ross Perot and Ralph Nader did not convince me that I’d found my tribe.  I decided I was really a Demoindependican.

 

The Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and again that they have the management skills of celery.  They’re the kind of people who’d stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire.  I would be reluctant to entrust them with a Cuisinart, let alone the economy.  The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn’t bother to stop because they’d want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the country club. 

  ~ Dave Barry

 

When I moved to Europe, things only got more complicated.  Every dinner seemed to result in a political attack on America, and I found myself constantly defending my country.  However my brand of Demoindependicanism was confusing to the Europeans.  “Are you Republican or Democrat,” a German colleague finally asked.  “Neither,” I chipped.  Perhaps somewhere in one of these countries was a coalition party that I could relate to – the sugar eating, fiscal and personal responsibility, social safety net, “Yes, I admit to believing in a higher power” party.  I was sure the Germans had a word for this.  As I evaluated the various countries with their myriad forms of governments, I felt cheated being part of a system where no political party captured the essence of my particular brand of humanity.  

 

Conservative, n:  A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.  ~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

 

Returning to America was wonderful, but it did not ameliorate my conflict.  I still feel like a political hobo – riding each party’s railway for a while until either out of disgust, boredom or anger I move on, incapable of making a commitment to stay.  As a Demoindependican, I advocate fiscal conservatism, social activism predicated on service and open arms internationalism.  This would not be the party of libertarians or populists but the amalgamation of Tocqueville, Confucius, Adam Smith, Hayek and my senior pastor.  My biggest problem is finding a party and a presidential candidate that best embodies those views.

 

Any ideas?