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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

THE PARTY'S OVER

After nearly six years of membership -- and a fairly loyal voting record, to boot -- I've left the Republican Party. It was a decision that I'd been wrestling with for over a year and not a conclusion that I came to lightly.

As a Republican, I was a member of a team, and a winning team at that.

I played the role of activist, contributor, cheerleader and voter, all in the service of the GOP, which had an overarching philosophy that I overwhelmingly agreed with when I first registered to vote in September of 2000. I could simplify presidential candidates and party platforms into the starkest of black-and-white terms. I gave money to and displayed campaign signs for Republican candidates. I was a team player, and when you're accepted into a group, you fight for the team just as hard as you can, regardless of cost or consequences.

And then, something happened between my senior year of high school and last week when I re-registered as an independent. My former conservative colleagues would call it a "liberalization perpetuated by the unrealistic atmosphere of an academic environment." I would disagree with the arbitrary label "liberal" and call my move toward moderation to be plain and simple common sense.

Whatever you choose to call it, what happened is undeniable: I realized that politics wasn't always black-and-white. Issues weren't cut-and-dried. Spin and lies flowed from both sides of the aisle, and the wide gulf between the political left and right is bridged by a huge sea of moderates who are inaccurately portrayed by both liberals and conservatives alike as an irrelevant group of voters.

I rejected the politics of "you're either with me or against me." On the path of progress, there is no reason that the players can't meet in the middle.

I began to disagree with the Republican Party's official positions on a range of domestic issues, and (to a lesser degree) I even saw advancing neoconservative foreign policy goals as overzealous. I stopped viewing the future as solely an opportunity for myself; rather, the world can and must present opportunities for all of us. But I soon learned that my opinions mattered little to the overall positions of the party, as the black-and-white, "liberal vs. conservative only" mentality prevailed in both national and state politics.

It's hard to be the one out-of-place member of a team, and though I wasn't alone in the club of moderate-to-liberal Republicans, I felt increasingly isolated by the national party platform, the agenda advanced by the GOP in Congress and comments made by fellow Republicans (personally and generally), not to mention the Bush administration has made high-level policy shifts that disagree with the very GOP platform that I supported six years ago.

It's tough to be the one family member who doesn't fit in. It's a challenge to tell your friends that what they're doing isn't right. And, as I found, it's nearly impossible to be comfortable as a moderate in the Republican Party. I came to the conclusion that my views weren't wanted; diversity within the party is discouraged (as far as political views go) and my "deviant" positions and willingness to compromise on a variety of issues meant that I "wasn't a team player," but was a "traitor" and a "turncoat" and, the most hurtful GOP insult of all, a "liberal."

I don't need to be affiliated with a group that views my concern that all people are represented as traitorous. If being a "team player" means I have to blindly support a party platform, I don't need to be on the team. A growing number of moderate Republicans agree with me, and politicians and voters alike are beginning to abandon the party that has become increasingly rigid, fundamentalist and bigoted in the last half-decade.

There were several things that pushed me closer and closer to the point of leaving the GOP within the last few months, in addition to the bad moves and blunders they've made over the past several years.

Mark Parkinson, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, left the GOP in late May to join with Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius in running for a second term. Parkinson, who has become a Democrat but has not, to my knowledge, changed positions on issues, felt that Sebelius presented Kansas with a moderate, common sense choice when compared to the ultra-conservative who is bound to be the Republican pick to run against her.

Parkinson admitted that Sebelius had done a good job in uniting Kansans for common causes and overlooking party politics in order to do what was best for the state. His alliance with the Democrats won him scathing remarks from Republican leaders and stalwarts around the state, who said they felt "betrayed" and that Parkinson was a "traitor."

But who is he betraying (if anyone)? Who is he a traitor to? Certainly not the people of Kansas; his motives for switching parties were designed to bring people together and show the voters that Sebelius is a moderate and more-than-acceptable choice.

Those upset at his departure were mad because it reflected poorly on the Republican Party. Parkinson was honest about the extremism that has a stranglehold on the GOP, and the party leadership hated that someone deviated from their staunchly conservative and fundamentalist views. Their natural response was typical of the modern Republican Party: attack, attack, attack. New labels for Parkinson were rolled out because the GOP is quite adept at defining opponents with one or two words, even if they aren't true.

"Liberal"

"Traitor"

"Turncoat"

"Betrayer"

These are the same words that the GOP leadership would use to describe me, or any disaffected Republican, simply because they don't tolerate deviant views. They'll attempt to cast us off and define us.

Compromise means we're weak.

Compassion means we're liberal.

Concern for the environment makes us tree-huggers.

Distrust of big business makes us communists.

Hoping for peace means that we're anti-American.

I reject all of their definitions. The GOP leadership are single-minded, hateful, bigoted and power-hungry and willing to do anything in order to gain and/or keep power, including outright lying to voters, putting the concerns of the party above the needs of the people and destroying the spirit of the constitution. They reject truly "compassionate conservatives" (or perhaps "thoughtful moderates") like me, and so I reject them and will paint them exactly as I have seen them as a member of their party.

Kansas Republicans will try to turn substantive debate on education funding, health care reform, tourism and the state's economy into base arguments about tax cuts and teaching religion in schools. Thankfully we won't have to hear their anti-gay rhetoric this time around, thanks to last year's passage of a hate-spurred amendment to our constitution.

Mark Parkinson wins my praise and admiration for being willing to cross party lines in order to do what is right for Kansas and not for the Republican Party. It's a shame he felt that in order to accomplish anything substantive, he had to abandon the Republicans, but thus is the reality of Kansas state politics.

And at the national level, why do we continue to elect people like Bill Frist, Dennis Hastert, Orrin Hatch, Tom DeLay, Ted Stevens and the like to high political office? The answers elude me, but you can be assured that these folks are not looking out for the interests of their states or our nation. They're providing for their own power and political interests via the Republican Party and the various lobbying arms of bloated industries. They have no interest in you or me, or the American people, for that matter.

(This is not to say that the Democratic leadership is not/would not be largely the same. However, the Republicans are in power, not the Democrats. The GOP sets the agenda, which has been the wrong agenda for this country time and time again.)

The Republicans are flat wrong on their priorities. As I've written before, we have dozens of priority issues that need to be addressed soon, like immigration reform, a vision for the War in Iraq (not to mention the peace), health care reform, substantive tax reform (not of the type we've seen for the last five years), substantive education reform, retooling our foreign aid practices, alternative energy development and reduction of current energy costs. Instead of tackling any of these issues in an attempt to pass meaningful legislation to benefit America, the GOP leadership in the Senate decided to debate constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and flag burning.

I believe there should be a constitutional amendment against frivolous legislation to amend the constitution for purely political reasons.

After the failure of the marriage amendment, and after the failure of the flag burning amendment, I thought we were clear to be on track to have something substantive accomplished in the remaining months before the election. Immigration reform is, of course, the pressing issue right now that the House and Senate need to find some agreement on. This is a priority (one way or another) for a majority of American voters.

Then, House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced that the House GOP would soon introduce the "American Values Agenda," yet another plate full of traditional conservative favorites: abortion, flag protection, public expression of religion (displaying the Ten Commandments, etc.), banning gay marriage, prohibiting internet gambling and more tax relief for the upper class.

I was outraged. None of this legislation is vital to America's economic and infrastructure security, and the only one I'd consider as legitimate would be a vote regarding abortion, and only then if it had a chance of passing. These bills won't go anywhere. They may pass the House, but they'll stall in the Senate. It is a waste of time; a decoy to take the heat off of the failures of the GOP. This package of legislation is nothing more than a campaign stunt, and at the very least, all Americans ought to be outraged that were paying 535 men and women more than $160,000 a year (nearly $100,000,000 total each year) to play politics and try to consolidate their own power.

They're supposed to be working for us, not any specific party. They're supposed to be watching out for us, not themselves.

The "American Values Agenda" was enough to push me over the edge. I left the GOP and became and independent the next day. The Republicans didn't want my voice, they wanted my vote. They didn't want my experience, they wanted my money. They wanted me to be a champion of the party, but only so long as I stood for an agenda that has become increasingly narrow and unaccommodating.

From now on (and as I should have made them do from the start), the Republicans will have to earn my vote. And while I'm only one vote out of millions, if every American holds their elected officials to the same standard, we may be able to have accountability in a government that works for us, not against us. The party's over, folks; its time to hold Congress accountable for what does and does not get done in Washington, D.C.


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