Wednesday, November 03, 2004

New Subtitle

For a number of reasons, I have opted to ditch the liberal tag for the above "blue law student in a red state." Those who know me well realized that the liberal line was a bit tongue in cheek. Although I support some liberal positions, my views tend to the more idiosyncratic. Plus, I think that by adopting a particular ideological tag, one becomes easy fodder for the sort of simple minded attacks that are common in contemporary political discourse.

Of course, to anyone who bothered to look, my biography link has always been here and it certainly would tend to describe someone closer to the mainstream of American political thought, with a few lurches left and right. I do not, and have not, hidden the fact that my political career began in the GOP. In fact, all of my paid political jobs have been on Republican campaigns, with the last being in 1998 for a statewide race in Massachusetts.

My journey started with the 1988 Bush campaign, as a campus volunteer. From there I got involved in the Massachusetts GOP and especially the local party, where I served on the Executive Committee. In my first few years I worked on state legislative races as well as local races. I was elected myself at the age of twenty to the school board in my home town. At that time, I was considered to be the Republican bomb thrower in a town government full of Democrats.

Like most young people, I saw the world in absolutist terms. This black and white world view animated me and led me to help found the Students for Life chapter at my college campus. And, it moved me to volunteer for the Buchanan campaign in 1992. I even heckled VP Quayle when he was in Boston with taunts of "how does it feel to be on the ticket with a liberal?"

Somehow I was able to overcome the Buchanan experience and I landed paid positions as a consultant to a Congressional race and later as a field director to a US Senate race, both before I was twenty four years old.

But things changed for me in 1994. I went away to law school (the first time) and made my first close gay friend. Although St. Louis was a small city, it opened my eyes to a much larger world around me. And with that bigger world came all sorts of shades of gray. In the fall of 1994 I even endorsed Ted Kennedy for re-election to the US Senate. Although I was not quite ready to leave the GOP, it seemed as though the time had come to reassess my outlook.

Shortly after January of 1995, as I digested more about the Contract with America and that election's changes in the make up of the GOP leadership, I realized the time had come to leave the Party. Sure, there was a part of me that wanted to stay and fight the dominance of the South and Midwestern religious conservatives, but it seemed to be a losing battle. The Rockefeller Republicans of the Northeast had seen a waning influence in the GOP for years. The Contract and the Gingrich Revolution merely cemented the status of religious conservatives as the leaders of the modern Republican Party.

At the same time that I left the GOP I had also left St. Louis and law school to return to Massachusetts. Over the next few years I would work with suicidal children, kids with emotional and behavioral disorders and in a public school. These experiences provided me with even more insight into how other people lived. As an upper middle class white kid growing up on Cape Cod, I just did not have those sorts of experiences.

Blah, blah, blah.. then I went to graduate school. Then worked for the Ways and Means Committee of the New York State Assembly. Then back to law school...

So.. where am I today? What made a former solid Republican into a Democrat? And what exactly do I believe?

Well, my discomfort with the Religious Right has always been there. I left the Students for Life chapter over disagreements about contraception and masturbation. Most of the members were staunch Catholics. Because the Church opposed contraception, masturbation and sex education the group did as well. This flew in the face of reason, given that preventing pregnancy was the best means to reduce abortion, and a rather heated argument between myself and the other board members ended with my comment about going home to "have sex with my girlfriend who is on the pill."

Beyond that particular disagreement, I became more politically pro-choice. The libertarian in me found it offensive for the government to dictate to a woman what she could and could not do to her body. Sure, I wanted to reduce abortions (I hope we all do!), but I did not want to do so by legislating morality.

My libertarian side (or my economics background) also leads me to positions that are contrary to those of the Democratic Party. I tend to favor market solutions as opposed to government solutions to problems. I oppose universal government health care; I am skeptical about minimum wage laws; I oppose rent control; I support using trade-able pollution credits as a way to diminish emissions; I oppose hate crimes laws.

So why do I vote Democratic? Well, I put it this way to a former political colleague- I think it is easier to get the Democrats to see the light on economics than it is to get the Republicans to see the light on social issues. Of course, it is not that simple. I could go on about my disdain for the theocratic politics of the GOP or the attempts by some in the GOP to prevent people with brown skin from voting or the GOP's use of wedge issues to divide the country, etc.

A lot has changed over the past sixteen years, and a lot has not. My values remain the same as they were, the same as they were instilled in me as a child. It is just that those values lead me to a different political conclusion. But, let's be honest here, liberal-conservative, left-right are merely ways to avoid thinking about complex issues that face us.

Down here in Atlanta, and also to some degree in St. Louis, I was considered a liberal. Back in Massachusetts and New York they call me a moderate or conservative. But no matter where I am, I'm the same person with the same values.


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