For reasons I don’t understand, the Republican Party seems to have no interest in my vote.
I was raised a Republican. Reagan was the president of my childhood, and my younger self identified with his speeches centered on self-reliance, the American dream, and reducing the scope and influence of government. Those themes fit like a glove in my mother’s household. Her very biggest rule for me was “be honest.” Nothing could make her more upset than a liar, but certainly I knew she also valued self-reliance. Growing up, I knew I shouldn’t expect others to do for me anything I could do for myself. Although my mother was socially more progressive, “liberal” was a dirty word in our home. I’d be well into my teens before a guy named Bill Clinton made me consider the possibility that not all Democrats were freeloaders or misinformed; I began to consider some people might actually want to use the government to lift up society’s most vulnerable.
Still, in ’96, my first chance to participate in a presidential election, I cast my vote for Ross Perot. I was going through a libertarian phase, worried about the size of our federal government and believing that people could do a better job of pursuing their own ideas of happiness if government would just get out of the way. Twenty years later, I still largely feel the same.
In the late 90s, right-leaning radio grump Don Imus became a hero of mine. I found him on US97 and enjoyed his disdain for elitism while working the dough room at a pizza restaurant where I made $5.75 an hour. This was the hardest job I have ever had. My young family was very poor at the time despite the fact my wife and I both worked. For a while, we utilized food stamps, which freed up money for rent, and my kids were born on Medicaid. I remember just how grateful I felt that there was a safety net for people like us. I don’t know how we could’ve made it otherwise. Despite my admiration for the I-Man, I’d vote for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. I felt government health care, in particular, lifted a huge burden off working poor people like myself, allowing them to better care for their families and pursue their American dream. By 2004, we were off Medicaid, off food stamps, and I had returned to college, determined to carve out a middle-class life for my family.
In 2008, I would graduate with a degree in journalism. My first job was with a biweekly newspaper run here in the conservative Ozarks by a staunchly Republican family. This was not a problem for me. The editor and publisher trusted me to guide our ’08 election coverage fairly, and I did my best to cover local, state and national elections with an even hand. I’m still proud of the work I did. Though I supported government investments in infrastructure and education, I considered myself an independent.
A fan of John McCain – based on my familiarity with the senator and POW as a regular guest on Imus – it was the 2008 election where I began to feel the charismatic Democratic senator from Illinois was not getting a fair shake. The market was tanking at the time and all of my research indicated keeping interest rates low and stimulating the economy through FDR-like spending was the best course of action for our nose-diving market. I quietly voted for Obama, and I’ve never regretted it.
When the Tea Party sprung up in ’09 and ’10, I was exposed through my job to much of their rhetoric. While they would rail on about out-of-control government spending, the economists and contractors I’d talk to were much more supportive of the needed stimulus. Reining in such spending could actually cause a Depression and debt levels were still quite manageable compared to the size of the GDP. In WWII, for example, the ratio of debt to GDP was much higher. Here in southwest Missouri, I didn’t understand the anger I was exposed to. Couldn’t conservatives see what I was seeing? Bush, who I loved in early aftermath of 9-11, had cut taxes and started two wars. Now the economy was free-falling and debt spending was keeping it afloat. This was not the time to dig in heels. Obama’s course was not only not radical, it was the right course.
And then there was health care. I supported Obama’s public option, which I thought would be the best way to drive rising health care costs down. But my Republican friends and colleagues freaked! This was subsidized care v. the free market — a completely unfair fight, they said. But Obama had what I thought was a strong backup plan: the Affordable Care Act, modeled after Republican “Romneycare” in Massachusetts and the proposed alternative to universal health care in the 90s. Surely, that would be agreeable.
Not so much.
The whole premise of Obamacare was that everyone needed to get insurance to help reduce costs for all because too many people weren’t covered, which puts the burden of costs on too few. My libertarian leanings didn’t like penalties for not securing coverage, but Medicaid expansion would at least protect the poor. Expansion also was made attractive to states with the federal government shouldering startup costs. I’m sure Obama thought opponents would fall in line. But he misread the room.
The Supreme Court would rightly find states weren’t obligated to expand Medicaid, and so red states like my Missouri turned down billions of dollars to undermine the president’s efforts, ignoring or neglecting their often rural base, which could have benefited hugely from expansion.
Now, over 60 times congressional Republicans have tried to overturn the ACA, the very system many prominent members of their party have championed in the past. Not surprisingly, rates continue to climb and it’s hard to imagine this system surviving as-is long into the next administration.
And now we have Donald Trump, whom I once enjoyed on “The Apprentice.” The billionaire adept at avoiding taxes and securing bankruptcy protection, who has used in his campaign a fear of minorities and Muslims to solidify a base of support, has privately joked about sexual aggression against women, openly questioned the president’s citizenship, allegedly bilked small-business owners with the threat and promise of frivolous lawsuits and called war hero McCain a loser for getting caught behind enemy lines — a man who has built his business empire through media promotion — says he’s not getting a fair shake from the free press.
Last night, in furtherance of his ongoing campaign nonsense, former Speaker and current Trump-waterboy Newt Gingrich, implored FoxNews show host Megyn Kelly to call adulterer and former president Bill Clinton a sexual predator, unsuccessfully, to make good I suppose for covering current sexual allegations against Trump. Kelly, rightfully, stood her ground. Has there been any acknowledgement on Gingrich’s or Trump’s behalf that Republicans in the 90s were wrong somehow to railroad Clinton for his unsettling indiscretion with a White House intern, which now looks positively tame compared to the allegations against Trump? Nah. I guess they’re too busy looking hawkishly toward the Middle East, planning to build a wall to keep out Mexicans all while cutting tax revenue for peers in their tax bracket. How can we pay for that?! Where is the outcry from debt-focused Tea Party conservatives now?
The Republican Party of my youth promoted personal responsibility, eliminating government red tape and dependence, free markets and free people regardless of race, creed or nationality. Remember: Reagan called for tearing down walls, not building them. Just how is it that his party today easily demonizes those among us who fight for the upward mobility or the poor, good infrastructure and an educated workforce — things that actually open up the American dream to more people and create an environment for ripe for entrepreneurship and innovation.
I never wanted to be a Democrat, but I guess that’s what I am.
If the Republican Party ever begins to resemble Reagan’s type of thinking again, please let me and mom know (even she can’t stand all of Trump’s lies and posturing). We are just waiting for that ticket to earn our votes.