Ever since I became aware of the debate in this country about the proper size, structure and role of government, I have been a believer in limited federal power, fiscal restraint and keeping as much power as possible in the hands of states, communities and individuals. For me, the Republican Party was a natural fit. I am sad to say that over the past few years, this has become no longer the case.
This decision did not come about suddenly; I did not go to bed a Republican last night and wake up a Democrat this morning. In fact, I still hold center-right positions on a number of issues, especially on taxes and the role of the federal government in regulating business.
I came to believe that this was the right choice for me after being told by other Republicans that I am not a "real" Republican because I hold a number of beliefs that are well within the mainstream of American public opinion, but do not conform to the standards of the far right wing of the party, which has recently come to dominate the Republican agenda and the fight for the presidential nomination.
In 1968, George H.W. Bush spoke in the House of Representatives in favor of widespread access to comprehensive sex education and birth control, a policy I fully support. I was told that not only am I not "really" a Republican for supporting sex education and access to birth control on a voluntary basis through organizations like Planned Parenthood. Why does this position makes me a "radical liberal" who wants to "destroy families," 44 years after a man who went on to be a Republican president said the exact same thing on the floor of the House? I personally find abortion to be in direct contradiction to the teachings of my Catholic faith, I believe that for women who feel differently, or who are in difficult situations and feel they have no choice, that abortion services should be available, held to reasonable safety standards, and not be made by legislators into a more painful, invasive or humiliating experience than it already is. For this, I was told that I was a radical.
On fiscal issues, I expressed support for the Bowles-Simpson plan as a good overall template for compromise. It balances the budget, simplifies the tax code, lowers rates and reforms entitlements.
These are goals that Republicans have been trying to achieve for generations! But because it contains a net revenue increase, it was deemed to be in violation of a politically popular but deeply irresponsible pledge, signed by nearly the entire congressional Republican caucus, to never agree to a net revenue increase under any circumstances. I know the man who wrote this pledge claims to be doing what he feels Ronald Reagan would want, but I cannot imagine Ronald Reagan supporting this hyper-simplistic, blatantly pandering document, that willfully ignores the reality that this is a big and complicated country that sometimes requires its leaders to make hard and unpopular choices. Some may consider this a reiteration of Democratic talking points and the GOP represents "real Americans." If this is so, I would appreciate an explanation of how President Obama is leading all of the potential GOP nominees in swing states with persistent 8% unemployment and an economy struggling to sustain a recovery.
After over a year of actively trying to help the Republican Party, and being constantly told to leave, I'm finally taking that advice. My opinions on the issues have not changed; I'm still to the right of most Democrats on a number of issues. But in most Democrats I've encountered, I've at least found a group of people who are willing to listen to my ideas, debate them respectfully, and try to find common ground. To me, that's what a political party should be about, not litmus tests, nostalgia for 30-year-old victories and revenge for 40-year-old defeats. I have recognized in President Obama a leader, while I might not see eye to eye with him on every issue, who is willing to compromise and have a conversation with leaders of both parties, which is something that the GOP does not support anymore.
A political party is supposed to work with people who want to advance its general principles, and find a way to build a big tent that fits as many voters as possible. It is not supposed to be an exclusive club that people may earn the privilege of joining by pledging strict allegiance on everything under the sun; unfortunately, that's what the GOP has become. When Reagan was asked why he left the Democratic Party to become a Republican, he famously responded that he didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left him. I, and many in my generation, feel not that the Republican Party left us, but that it never really wanted us to begin with. We'll simply do as we've been asked; we'll leave.