The time has come to let everyone know my deepest darkest secret. I figure if I’m going to keep writing this blog, I better “out” myself before someone else does.
Here goes: I used to be a Republican. There. I’ve said it and I feel free. Most of my friends know this and that I’ve spent the last 20 years as a Democrat trying to atone for that past sin. I know it’s shameful. I know a lot of people would just be quiet and try to pass as a life long Democrat, but I just can’t do that. I believe I have to be open and share my journey honestly if I’m going to keep writing about politics on this blog.
In my defense, I was born into a Republican family in a Republican town and went to a Republican College. Well, I think maybe there were 7 or 8 Democrats at Washington and Lee University in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, but they were mostly deep in the closet. They knew if they came out, they would be ruined socially, shunned, drummed out of their fraternities and it could stand in the way of getting a good job after graduation.
After College, I worked in Banking for a few years. Back then, there were still Country Club Republicans (fiscal conservatives, social liberals) and that’s mainly what I saw at the banks and in my social life. That was, frankly, the only type of Republican I knew. Today, that species of Republican is pretty much extinct. To give you an idea of what they were like, one friend’s mother said the only reason she was a Republican was she was afraid the Democrats wanted to redistribute the wealth and she would have to clean her own house.
Then I took the step that lead me down the path to becoming a Democrat: I worked with the Republican Party, on staff, on several Congressional and Senate Races in Virginia, North Carolina and Vermont. This opened both my eyes and my mind.
I did meet a lot of nice people working these campaigns, but I also saw a lot of things that made me start to ask myself a lot of questions I had not asked myself before.
The first big turnoff I saw was how the Republicans were actively trying to court the Religious Right and make alliances with Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s people. Some of these “christians” were very nice, but all of them were very rigid and more than a little self righteous. But I heard more than one Republican insider say they needed a group they could turn out as dependably as the Democrats turned out African-Americans. (They generally put it a little more indelicately and bluntly.) They would court these “christians” to their face, then laugh at them over drinks at the end of the day. They were tearing down the wall between Church and State for political gain. Their plan was to use the Christian Conservatives to win seats to drive their real agenda: Protecting the Rich.
The overall Republican philosophy I saw then could best be summed up as “I’ve got mine and I’m going to keep it. Screw you and everyone else”. This really hasn’t changed.
I realized I was coming from a different place than these people. I had struggled to get through college. I had needed financial aid to afford a private school like W&L. I believed the government had a role in helping people better themselves and protect them from catastrophe. I didn’t understand “Christians” who constantly sat in judgement on everyone else. I didn’t understand the rabid anti-abortionists we dealt with daily –especially the men. I’ve always believed if you don’t have a uterus, you don’t have a voice in the abortion debate. I also didn’t understand how Pro-Life could also be Pro-Death penalty. I abhorred the blatant, open racism I heard constantly from both the Republican operatives and the rank and file party members and volunteers. I especially didn’t understand how Gay men- and you couldn’t sling a cat without hitting one in the Republican party then or now- could be so self hating and work against their own interests.
And then my friends started to get sick and die of AIDS. I am convinced, if it had not been for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who made AIDS a so-called “moral” issue, instead of a public health issue, we would have seen a completely different response from the Federal government much earlier in the crisis. It would have been addressed much more quickly and appropriately, strictly as a public health issue, and maybe my friends Dennis, Andre and so many more, would not have had to die so tragically young. But Reagan and George H W Bush needed the Pat and Jerry voting block to get elected and keep their political power, so they let them moralize and waste time and lives.
It all came to a head for me during a Congressional campaign in North Carolina. The candidate was an idiot and the only ones following him were the extremes of the Right Wing. I knew I no longer belonged there and so did they. I walked out in the middle of the campaign- one step ahead of being purged.
It was time to stop going through the motions and start thinking about what I really believed in. I hopped on a plane to see one of my college friends -who just happened to live in a very nice condo on a very nice beach- and spent a week decompressing. Then I went back to Danville and started over. All over. I had burned my bridges, but I had lots of time to think. My Republican “friends” had blackballed me in Washington, so I spent a year looking for another job during a white collar recession and trying to rebuild my belief system.
I finally grew up.
I developed–or rather found already within me– my own core beliefs. I embraced these beliefs and have tried to use them to guide my Post Republican life. When I looked at these core beliefs: social justice, separation of Church and State, equality for all people, access for everyone to quality education and health care, trying to understand and help people as opposed to judging or dismissing them, and facing issues with creativity and facts, not blanket, rigid philosophy–I found the Party that best represented these ideas was the Democratic Party.
It’s not always been a perfect marriage, but overall it’s been a happy one. What I love about being a Democrat is the openness to new ideas within the Party . And it’s diversity- in thought, philosophy, religion, race and just about any other way imaginable. That makes it hard to govern sometimes, but it makes for thoughtful governance as opposed to the lockstep rigidity of the GOP. And there is a lot more compassion and a lot less anger and judgement than I saw in the GOP.
To me the core difference between the two major political parties is the Democrats look forward with hope while the Republicans look backward with fear.
And believe me, when I came out about this to some of my friends and family, they were much more upset about me being a Democrat – and people knowing- than they ever were about my being Gay.