I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time. The power is out at work today, so I’m unexpectedly home with some time on my hands.
My family, for the most part, and most vocally my uncles, are staunch Catholic Republicans, and have been for as long as I can remember. I was digging through my button collection the other day and I came across a couple of Bush I buttons from back in the 80s [and an “I support Desert Storm” one, too]. Despite all of this, I grew up relatively oblivious to partisan politics. Sure, I absorbed, and still believe in much of what old-school small-c conservative folks believe in, but I’ve never identified with either party machine. I usually tell people, if pressed, that I’m a fiscal conservative and a social liberal.
Once I hit 18 and got my franchise, I started paying attention. The first thing I noticed was that whenever politics came up at family gatherings, the liberal side was always the one under attack. This confused me, because as far as I could tell, liberal politics are the most in line with the teachings of Jesus. I couldn’t understand how my wonderful, Catholic family could deride politics that seem to mesh to easily with most of Catholicisms teachings.
I’ve never been one to blindly follow a crowd; I spent 4 years at one of the most rabidly conformist and tradition-loving universities in the nation. I’d initially bought in to the Notre Dame dream, but the reality I found there was at odds with their marketing. That’s the same thing I noticed with my family, they seemed to have bought what Republicans are marketing, without paying attention to the product they actually got.
In the 2000 election, my grandmother said she couldn’t vote for Gore/Lieberman, because she couldn’t bring herself to vote for a Jew. I’m sure if she were still alive that she’d say that she couldn’t vote for Obama because of a similar reason. She would always vehemently deny this racism when called on it, and I’m sure she wasn’t consciously racist, just a product of her time.
As the 2004 election rolled around, one of my uncles said that he no longer bought Grey Goose vodka, because France didn’t support us in the war in Iraq, and that he didn’t buy Coors beer because they supported gay marriage. This sounded very irrational to me.
Now that the 2008 election is here, I have one uncle whose religious beliefs keep him from voting, yet who nevertheless has nothing good to say about Democratic policy, most specifically healthcare, and another who thinks Sarah Palin is a great VP pick because she’s conservative, young and a woman. The only criterion that he said was missing was that she be black. When pressed about why the VP pick needed to have those qualifications he said so that the GOP could beat the Democrats. Moments later he derided career politicians for their willingness to do anything to get elected.
This continuing pattern of cognitive dissonance amazes me. I would kill for my family, they are the greatest people in my life, but whenever politics comes up, it is like I enter bizarro-world. I hold out hope for my mom. She said, with a note of “Is it okay to feel this way?” in her voice, that watching the Democratic convention inspired her. Still, instead of basing her choice on the issues, she turns off the sound and votes for whomever’s body language seems the most genuine.
I really don’t care who anybody votes for. What I care about is the manner in which people make their choice. Blindly following a party-line or making a choice based on some intangible is quite frightening to me because it shows a fundamental disrespect for the privilege of having a vote. Slightly better, but still fairly irresponsible is basing a vote on what a candidate will promise, but not examining their ability to accomplish those promises, or, after elected if they ever actually deliver on them.
So now we get to why I’m choosing to vote for whom. As a fiscal conservative, I want the government to be good stewards of my tax dollars. I want to trust them to spend this money in a reasonable and responsible way. I expect them to not spend more money than they have and to use tax dollars to improve the quality of life for Americans by funding education, health and human services, job training, etc. The Republicans have been consistently failing at this for as long as I’ve been alive. Reagan, Bush I and Bush II all created huge debts pouring money into the Department of Defense and stupid wars in the Middle East. That is not good stewardship of my tax dollars, despite the fact that the GOP claims to be fiscally conservative.
As a social liberal, I believe that the government should keep its nose out of my private life. More libertarian than liberal, possibly. I believe the government has no place banning same-sex marriage or restricting access to health care options [abortion, contraceptives, sex education, stem-cell research, etc.]. I am personally opposed to abortions of convenience because I feel that if you’re out there having sex, you should take responsibility for playing that lottery and knowing what the outcomes could be, but I also know that my opinion on the matter is irrelevant, since I can’t have an abortion. That’s a choice the pregnant woman has to make; a choice that I will support even if I disagree with it. The GOP has its nose in all of those things.
So that’s why I’m not voting for the GOP. Why am I voting for Barack Obama? I am voting for Barack Obama because he advocates for and encourages citizens take responsibility for their governance. His stances on various issues are measured, nuanced positions that indicate a sincere examination of what he thinks will be best for the country. He refuses to play the marketing three-card monte game, and instead is playing politics the way it should always be played, with respect, candor and sincerity to all parties involved. This in turn shows that he respects the status of the Office for which he is running. I’ve yet to see any of that from John McCain.
Now if only I could get a yard sign.