What’s a Baby Boomer Republican Supposed to Do?
One of the first things I did when I turned 18 was register to vote. I’ve voted in every special, primary, and general election since then. It was the spring of 1975, just a few months after President Nixon resigned because of Watergate. The Vietnam War had technically ended two years earlier, but Saigon wouldn’t fall for another couple of months. Culturally, we were midway between the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” I grew up in West Los Angeles - the epicenter of the yet-to-be coined coastal elitism and white privilege. While I just missed the draft, I had a teacher whose son was a POW and classmates who lost siblings in the War. We were equidistant from the beach, Jane Fonda, and the Sunset Strip.
You’d be correct to think that coming out of that environment, I was a typical “Limousine Liberal”. And you’d be wrong. I initially registered as a Republican and remained one until the George W. Bush presidency.
While I’ve always felt a civic responsibility to vote and participate in our electoral process, the qualifications and positions of individual candidates have always been most important to me. I’ve never felt a partisan obligation to vote a strictly partisan party ticket. Until now.
I used to believe in the saying, “If you’re not a Liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, and if you’re not a Conservative by middle age, you have no brain.” I just thought I was ahead of my time. But as Bob Dylan sings, “the times, they are a changin’.” I’ve evolved to believing extremes are detrimental and the best outcomes require a balance of heart and brain: we need to take care of people first, but we also need to do so in a fiscally responsible manner.
The small government and fiscal conservatives of the 1970s are long gone, as are the Blue Dog Democrats and Main Street Republicans that brought reason and moderation to the process. The extremes in both parties today prevail and what’s best for the party trumps what’s best for Americans. As a result, people are suffering, government tentacles reach deeper into our lives, and the national debt is growing “bigly.”
My political views have always been somewhat complicated. I did – and still do – believe in limited government, lower taxes and fewer regulations. I believe in personal responsibility and equal opportunity, but not equal outcomes. Collectively, we need to provide services that no individual – or business - could afford alone, such as roads, utilities, and the military.
We need to control the border while greatly expanding the pool of legal immigrants to pick our crops, build our homes, and become the next generation of entrepreneurs. People should be able to love who they want and not be discriminated against because of who they are. We need to help those who fall on hard times, without providing a lifetime of dependency on the welfare state. The richest nation in the world – not necessarily the government - has a responsibility to provide quality, affordable healthcare to all. A woman’s body – and the choices she makes about it – are none of any man’s damn business! Death with dignity should be a basic right, not an illegal act. It’s ok to put reasonable regulations on guns used in mass shootings. It does not make sense to spend billions of dollars prosecuting and jailing thousands of people for smoking a harmless, indigenous weed.
I understand not many people share all of my beliefs, but most Americans share at least some of them. That’s what makes America strong, but today’s partisanship and intolerance for opposing views is tearing us apart.
This brings me to political parties (which are not mentioned in the Constitution) and voting. As a California Republican, my vote rarely affected the outcome of a race, yet I have never missed the opportunity to vote. I hated the idea of tax-and-spend Democrats, until George W. Bush opened my eyes to cut-taxes-and-spend Republicans. Except in times of deep recession, it makes no sense to cut taxes while increasing spending, yet that is what Republicans from Bush to Trump have made as the cornerstone of their economic policies. When Bush combined tax cuts with increased spending, I switched my voter registration from Republican to Independent.
Debt-to-GDP is a strong measure of the future strength of our economy, and it has been growing steadily. In 1975 the federal debt was $533 billion, for a ratio to GDP of 32%. When Clinton took office 1992, the ratio was 62%, when he left in 2000, it was 55%. When Bush left office in 2008, it was up to 68%. Obama who inherited the Great Recession, but left office at a time of growing prosperity, left us with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 104%. And President Trump? The 2018 debt is projected to be over $19 TRILLION dollars, and 107% of GDP. It is projected to increase slightly to 108% through the end of his term in 2020.
It’s clear that elected officials like to spend money, especially other people’s. I do too, but my wife and bank put limits on my spending – something the voters seem loathe to do with elected officials. The only real difference between Democrats and Republicans today is what they choose to spend money on.
While Democrats spend more money than I’d like to see, they choose to spend money on things that are more important to everyday people, like healthcare, education, and environmental protection. Republicans choose to spend money on programs that benefit the wealthy and corporations, and from what I’ve seen, the ROI on trickle-down economics just isn’t there. Republicans are also more willing than Democrats to take on increased debt to “buy” what they want.
My decision to leave the Republican party was not solely based on economics. Democrats and Republicans equally like to regulate, just on different things. It’s an over-simplification, but Democrats want to regulate boardrooms while Republicans want to regulate bedrooms. Both parties overreach, like the recent California law to require gender quotas on corporate boards as well as Republican efforts to restrict abortion and same-sex marriages. I’d rather have the government regulate what goes into the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Meanwhile, stay out of personal decisions and not impose some peoples’ morality on all of us.
So if I believe both Republicans and Democrats both spend and regulate to excess, what am I going to do and why should anybody care? I’m not the first former Republican to believe the party left me. I don’t have a public profile or soapbox to draw attention to my action. I’m just your average high propensity voter. For the first time in my life, I’ll be voting a straight Democratic ticket, and now that I live in Nevada, my vote might actually make a difference. While it has taken a lot to get me to this point, the reasons are really quite simple: Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, and the Supreme Court SCOTUS.
Just because Congress or a state legislature passes a law, or an agency imposes a regulation, doesn’t make it legal according to our Constitution. From slavery to equal education and opportunity to interracial marriage to abortion and same sex marriage, SCOTUS decisions profoundly affect everyday life for all Americans. Elections have always had consequences, and the appointment of Supreme Court Justices has always been political, but in the past few decades, the final safeguard for our Constitution has evolved into a partisan political body. The court’s vote on the most significant “social issues” are now split based upon the party of the presidents that appointed the justices. The outcome of elections has never been more consequential.
While I long for the Republican idealism I’ve believed in since the mid-1970’s, there is just too much at stake to take the good with the bad. Now that I’m on the downhill side of middle age, my heart and brain are better balanced, but my real dilemma will come in 2020 if the Democrats nominate an extremist for President. I can’t imagine voting for somebody like Elizabeth Warren any more than I can imagine voting for President Trump.