I don’t often do political posts–frankly, I hate arguments and that is what usually ensues in the comment sections of such essays. I’m generally a “live and let live” kind of guy and don’t really like the contentious culture we, as a society, have created for ourselves (at least here in America). It seems like you can’t disagree in a civil manner–that if you are THE OPPOSITION then you are EVIL AND MUST BE DESTROYED! People are entrenched in their ideologies, adhering to them with the dogmatic zeal that they usually reserve for a religion–or a favorite sports team. It’s a form of fundamentalism that I find not only off-putting, but downright dangerous. So, more often than not, I simply choose not to participate.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t think about sociopolitical issues. Nor do I think that I’m entrenched in my own ideas (but, then again, most people don’t think of themselves that way). However, I know that over the years my thinking has shifted in various ways, adjusting as I acquire new information and new experiences. I always shake my head at folks that claim, actually with a sense of pride, that they have never changed their mind or been a stalwart “X” since forever. To me that seems to indicate that you haven’t been paying attention–and that you’ve learned nothing.
I turned 18 in 1991. The 1992 presidential elections were the first opportunity I had to vote and marked when I first really started following politics. I was young, idealistic, and happy to participate. I went to a rally for Bill Clinton in Fort Worth and was blown away by his charisma and by his message. So I voted for him–and gladly.
But over the next few years, as I progressed in my college career, I began to become more and more conservative in my thinking. I became less enamored of Clinton and of progressive politics–or, more specifically, progressive politicians, of the day. This was during the heated “culture wars” of ’90s. I was a “ditto-head” (a Rush Limbaugh devotee) and an avid listener of local conservative talk radio. I truly believed–and still do to a certain extent–in the message of less governmental interference in people’s lives. I believed in fiscal conservatism–at least in the form of spending only what you have and balancing the budget. In fact, while I was in college, I actually wrote and op-ed for a student conservative paper lambasting a professor I had that would fail papers based on their use of “mankind” vs. “humanity*“. Yeah…I was hardcore.
The thing is, even in my conservative heyday, I wasn’t nearly as hardcore as some of my friends (I live in Texas–where if you’re a moderate, you’re a socialist). And I found that I only agreed with my radio stars about 80% of the time. Too many times they seemed to edge across the bridge too far for my tastes. And when it came to social issues, I probably only agreed about 25% of the time–at most. It disturbed me that they wanted government out of people’s lives when it came to fiscal issues–but firmly in people’s bedrooms when it came to their own social beliefs. And, frankly, I could never get on board with the utter faith that conservatives have in business, this unwavering belief that whatever is good for business is good for all of America.
That’s when I toyed a little with libertarianism. I generally liked the laissez faire attitude regarding social issues–but just could not get completely on board the anti-government train. I think that sometimes government does need to interfere in order for the country to do the right thing. I think legislation like the Civil Rights Act and other such measures were necessary and good. I had always firmly believed that our government is made up of We the People–it’s not this alien thing that descends upon us against which we must rebel. Government is Us. And so I came to the conclusion that if We the People, through our government, decide that we want to ensure that services are provided to help those most in need, then that wasn’t necessarily a Bad Thing. So long as it was done efficiently and well.
So now I find myself in what I term a moderate position but other folks in my “red state” would consider liberal. I’m, admittedly, very liberal (even libertarian) on many social issues. But also claim some conservative values of fiscal responsibility. I believe that, as much as possible, people need to have the freedom to make choices that affect their own lives. I believe in equality for all people–regardless of gender, race, faith, creed, and sexual orientation. I also believe in the right to bear arms–though some restrictions are reasonable and necessary. I believe that the government has an obligation to live within its means.
I don’t believe that any one party has a monopoly on patriotism. I don’t believe that any one ideology is representative of the “real America.” I don’t believe that America was founded as, or should be, a Christian nation, but one of religious freedom. I don’t believe that we can afford to not be a good citizen of the world. I don’t believe in the protection of privilege, but the protection of freedom. I don’t believe that the government is my enemy–the government is my neighbor. My friends. Myself.
But the problem–and it’s a problem with both sides of the false dichotomy that we are forced to work within–is that We the People have lost our voice. In a country where corporations are given all the same rights and privileges as human beings, in a process in which only the loudest and the most well-off are heard, government becomes the outsider. We get a perception that government comes from without because we no longer see ourselves in it.
To me, our biggest threat isn’t government. It’s the monied elites–from both sides of the political aisle–that are doing us the most harm. Even if we agree with some of them, they are not our representatives. They are not beholden to us–only to their self-interest.
So, if I don’t like to get into political discussions, why on earth did I take you on this scenic tour of my political evolution? Because I want to make the point–especially in this rancorous political season–that nothing is black and white. Nothing is either/or. People and ideas are complex and intertwining. I’m not a label or an ideology. I’m a person who has come down a long path to arrive at what I believe now. And those beliefs may change.
And if it is true for me, it is probably true of that person you’ve just flamed on der interwebz.
And it’s probably true of you as well.