It's going to be something of a weird experience, but for the first time in my life, I'll be voting Democratic in this fall's presidential election.
Granted, it won't be that weird: in 2004, I strongly considered voting for John Kerry out of disgust with President Bush's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as well as what I viewed as his mishandling of the war. Ultimately, I just couldn't bring myself to vote for someone with a (D) after their name.
This time around, there will be no hesitation on my part. The Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan presidential ticket is the most distasteful choice I have encountered in my sixteen years of voting -- because it's the first GOP ticket in recent history that seems to stand for absolutely nothing.
I voted for the Bob Dole-Jack Kemp ticket in 1996, repulsed by President Clinton's attempt to blame talk radio for the Oklahoma City bombing and what I regarded as his generally low character. Dole struck me as a moral, honorable man -- and Kemp impressed me with his commitment to a big-tent, inclusive Republican vision. I felt as though I was the only person in Massachusetts who voted for Dole-Kemp, but I was proud of my vote -- and couldn't help reminding my Democratic friends during the Monica Lewinsky controversy that I didn't vote for their guy.
Anti-Clinton animus continued to motivate me in 2000; while I was temporarily repulsed by George W. Bush's pandering to the bigots at Bob Jones University in February 2000, my opposition to all things Clinton was stronger than my opposition to the Bob Jones visit, and I voted for Bush over Clinton's vice president, Al Gore. (At the time, I actually blamed the Democrats for the drawn-out aftermath of the November 7 election, reasoning that Gore's failure to win Tennessee and Clinton's alienation of Cuban voters in Florida with his handling of the Elian Gonzalez matter ultimately brought about the fiasco in Florida, not any chicanery by the GOP.)
In 2004, I doubted Bush's ability to "win" the Iraq War. I was not a Kerry fan: I viewed him as a standard-issue liberal and loved laughing at Boston talk radio star Howie Carr's description of the Bay State's then-junior senator as John "Live Shot" Kerry, so named for his alleged obsession with getting face time on local TV news shows. Yet I had a hard time with the idea of voting for Bush again. Bush's April 13, 2004 press conference in particular disgusted me; his arrogant smirk, his refusal to acknowledge specific mistakes in his prosecution of the War on Terror and his overall "I'm the president and you're not!" demeanor ticked me off. I was even more upset with him than I was four years earlier when he showed up at Bob Jones University.
I came close, damn close, to going for Kerry. I figured that if the Republicans retained control of the House and Senate, Kerry's worst impulses would be restrained. I couldn't imagine Kerry showing weakness in the War on Terror once he was actually in office.
Yet I couldn't go through with it. It was too much of a psychological shock to vote for a Democrat back then.
In 2008, I ruled out a vote for Barack Obama: I regarded him as too liberal, too inexperienced, too much like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, someone I strongly opposed at the time. McCain's views were simply closer to my own, and I believed his rhetoric about putting the country first. I initially defended his selection of Sarah Palin as a necessary and effective way to galvanize the conservative base -- though she lost me with her suggestion that only certain parts of the country were "pro-America." Nevertheless, I voted for McCain, reasoning that his Supreme Court picks would be better and that he, not Obama, would be able to apply salve to our partisan wounds.
I still wonder what would have happened if McCain had won. I still think McCain would have pushed back against the more ideologically exotic elements of the GOP.
I know for a fact Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan won't.
I've noted before that Romney genuflected to the far right during the debate over same-sex marriage in Massachusetts nearly a decade ago. It was shameful stuff, a parade of pathetic pandering that caused the Massachusetts GOP to lose control of the state's governorship, which the party had controlled for sixteen years. The idea of a President Romney spending four to eight years disparaging the LGBT community ought to horrify anyone with a gay friend or family member.
With regard to Ryan, as Daniel Larison of The American Conservative has noted for years, the Wisconsin congressman is the ultimate political fraud:
Bush was in the White House for most of Ryan's thirteen years in the House. For six of those years, Ryan belonged to a Republican majority that was closely aligned with the Bush administration on both domestic and foreign policy issues, and Bush and Ryan's careers overlapped for eight years. Ryan voted for every major piece of legislation that the Bush administration favored that came before the House. He voted for the PATRIOT Act, No Child Left Behind, the Iraq war, Medicare Part D, and the TARP. Ryan's voting record is a perfect example of Republican support for the expansion of the size and role of government when their party is in power.
Combine that with Ryan's hatred for scientific facts, and you have a ticket I couldn't support even in bad conscience.
When I first went to college, kids would sometimes ask me to go with them to parties where it was obvious there would be underage drinking. I would always politely turn them down. My logic was simple: I can't stop you from doing it, I can't control your actions, but I want no part of it. You go to school to study, not to get drunk.
The same logic applies here, as I watch Republicans scratch and itch themselves in anticipation of voting for Romney-Ryan. If they want to get drunk on the cheap wine of policy-free politics, dogmatic demonization of Democrats, and the embrace of ExxonMobil, then that's their business. I've never been able to talk someone into voting my way. However, I can't join them in what I regard as an immoral decision.
I'm still not exactly a fan of President Obama. If Jon Huntsman had secured the GOP nomination, I would have voted for Huntsman over Obama without a second thought -- because Huntsman seemed to have the backbone necessary to stand up to the John Birch Society wing of the GOP. Romney and Ryan don't have that backbone. So this November, I'll set my differences with Obama aside in the name of saying no to a ticket that stands for nothing.