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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A Republican no more

At the senior picnic a week before we graduated high school in 1992 a history teacher remarked to our principal that "Chris is a real conservative whether he realizes that or not." It came during a lil' discussion we'd been having about what might happen with that year's presidential election since Ross Perot was developing into a strong challenger to the two major parties.

"Conservative?" I wondered: "I don't even know what that really means... am I one?"

I registered to vote the day after my eighteenth birthday, and have gone to the polls in every major elections since. That I've made that effort to be far from an apathetic citizen is something I'm very proud of: the freedoms we enjoy in this country were bought at too high a price, and we take them for granted at our peril. That doesn't mean we MUST vote in every single race on the ballot, because the sad fact of the matter is that none of the candidates in many races don't deserve our vote. But I'm a firm believer that it's incumbent to the responsibility that God gave us as stewards of our liberties that we do vigorously exercise our franchise, and choose either for a candidate or against all of them on the ballot.

That last part has taken me the better part of the time since first registering to really understand. When I first started voting as a younger buck I registered as a Democrat only because my entire family had been Democrats, as if that really mattered and despite the fact that we've generally been more conservative than Jesse Helms on a lot of things. Almost soon after registering I began seeing how corrupt the Democrat party really was and began feeling guilty for being associated with them. So in what I like to think was an act of youthful rebellion against "the way things are" I joined Ross Perot's campaign in 1992 and gave it my best effort to see Perot win that year. I even had a "Ross for Boss in '92" button made that I proudly wore around our college campus. He lost, of course, and the Democrats took the White House, but a seed had been planted in my independent streak.

It began blooming during the next two years as I watched the Clintons made a mockery out of everything the office of President of the United States is supposed to stand for. They were the ones who first made me consider what liberalism really means, and how its root "liberty" is the furthest extreme possible from that mindset. Even as an 18-year old I didn't like the idea of OUR money that we entrust (though almost at the point of a gun) with the government being spent on things like obscene art and pork-barrel giveaways and something as laughable as the United Nations. I came to realize what the Clintons, and what Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy and Carol-Moseley Braun really wanted: as much power over every American as they could get away with. Conversely, simultaneous with my realization was my conversion into a "Ditto-head" ensuing my discovery of Rush Limbaugh's television show and then his radio broadcast. A year after Mrs. McCollum had called me a "conservative", I had comfortably and enthusiastically made that the overall definition of my ideas and philosophies and that to be a conservative was to embrace the freedom to be as much as God and our own talents would allow us to be.

But I was still registered as a Democrat. And still watching in disgust as President Clinton played his games with the budget while turning the United States military into a glorified "Meals on Wheels" program. And conniving to keep as many people fooled about his personal character as possible. It was my sister who made me do the obvious thing: the afternoon after she'd had her own conversion she dragged me to the Board of Elections where I declared never again would I be affiliated with the Democrats as long as they were this corrupt, and swore my life, my fortune and my sacred honor to the service of the Republican party. That was October 1994.

In the ten years since I've stood by the Republican party, rejoicing at what we thought was conservative victory that year and hoping that Clinton's style of "leadership" would be given the boot in 1996: my roomie and I even hung a giant "Dole for President" sign in our window overlooking the street weeks before the election. I was so sure that the Republicans would be vindicated for their adherence to conservatism, that if they held to their principles then this country really would turn around for the better.

I was wrong. And I'm tired of holding onto, in the least bit, the illusion that the Republicans demand that I buy into.

The Republican party is so infested with liberal motivations that it's ceased to be a vehicle for conservative ideas and methods. For sake of "winning elections" I've watched the GOP prostitute itself so many times to appease the lowest common denominator, that it doesn't stand for anything of principle anymore. If I were to keep believing that choosing to be a Republican makes a better difference than being a Democrat, I would be allowing myself to be enslaved to a lie. And I'm too damned free to be a slave to anyone or anything.

George W. Bush is a far worse President than Bill Clinton ever was. And a bigger liberal than Clinton was either. The only thing I can see of virtue in his administration is that at least Bush shies away from young interns and maybe keeps the Oval Office sink cleaner than did his predecessor. Government spending on Bush's watch has skyrocketed to levels that the Clinton term never approached. Expenditure will soon outstrip government's means of financing it barring - guess what? - a tax increase. Bush does not believe in maintaining and protecting our nation's sovereignty: it cannot possibly be claimed that one does that while also encouraging our nation's borders to be as leaky as a rusty sieve. He's abusing the use of our military forces in ways that make Clinton's antics in Haiti and Somalia look almost honorable. And yet, to be considered a "good conservative" Republicans are expected to turn a blind eye to these and other things that fully contradict what principled conservatism stands for.

The PATRIOT Act is the worst possible piece of legislation that ever came out of Washington D.C. The Republicans who voted for it - ALL of them who did because no one admitted to having actually read the abominable thing - have demonstrated that in their zeal to follow their Republican President, they have no compunctions against violating the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution.

The common man has as much hope of serving his countrymen in elected office via the Republican party as he does through the Democrats... in other words, none at all. Ideas and principles don't qualify you to be a Republican candidate anymore: they're now considered a liability to the cause. Republicans want their candidates to be either rich, or famous, or ideally both. A GOP candidate must be "approved" by the party's leadership as being faithful enough to their aims, which aren't necessarily what is in the best interest of the people you want to serve: they run counter to it more often than not. Both major parties have succeeded in bringing back the "smoke-filled room" but the Republicans are much worse than their Democrat antagonists: if you dare suggest opposition to the party's anointed, you'll be deemed a ratfink and you may as well kiss your desire to serve - however sincere they are - goodbye forever.

That's what I've wanted to do ever since I was a teenager: offer myself as a candidate for elected office. Maybe even the U.S. House of Representatives someday. Get elected and serve one term, maybe two, then come home and let someone else take a crack at it. Life's too short to make a career out of something like that while denying yourself all the other experiences that come with this world. That, and staying entrenched in office for longer than a few terms tends to dull your senses as to how to respect others as their servant: you soon begin to represent yourself, not them. Neither one of the two major parties want that in someone they sponsor. They want individuals who will surrender their individuality as part of a long-term investment for the party's power: an incumbent Republican is a lot harder to lose from an election than a first-time candidate is, after all.

My conscience has felt dirty, for these reasons and many more, during the past few years since I began seeing for the first time that to be a loyal Republican is to possess as corrupted a soul as any loyal Democrat has. It would be an exercise in futility to try to run on the Republican slate as a principled conservative... so what reason do I have in staying with the Republicans, at all? I realize now that the GOP abandoned conservatism a long time ago, and there's no reason for me to stick around any longer either. But I never left the Republican party... it left me.

This morning I went to renew my drivers license, which also allowed me to change my voter registration. When the nice lady asked for my affiliation I blurted out, without a second thought, "independent". I told her that I was once a Democrat before switching to Republican, and I was now sick to death of both of them. "A lot of people are," she told me.

So here I am, enjoying the first few hours of my political freedom, for the first time in my life. I owe no party any loyalty, and none can now claim me as a thrall of their own. All it took was a little thought and a negligible amount of breath to simply say "no" to them.

But then, that's all it takes for anyone to be free from anything.