What I’m about to write is how my increasing frustration with the Tea Party and the GOP are the main reasons why I am leaving the Republican Party and switching to an Independent. It’s a story about a young man who has a devoted interest in politics and has since he was 16 years old. In that time, I’ve transformed and changed my opinions more than Mitt Romney (a man who I’ll address later on). I started out as a center-left liberal Democrat, just as I was raised. Then, like all college kids who only begin to get a whiff of politics (and marijuana), I dabbled in Libertarianism for a very brief tenure. It was only until I became a Rudy Giuliani Republican (Social Moderate, Neocon on Defense, Fiscal Conservative) that I became adamant about my political beliefs and evangelized them to anyone within my range. For four years, I allowed myself to parrot tired and cliché Ronald Reagan quotes, castigate any part of government (except the military) and defend indefensible positions (the Iraq War, bonuses for Hedge Fund managers that were bailed out by the government, allowing health care companies to deny people coverage who had cancer). For four years, I was lied to and told that I would be accepted in the GOP, despite my moderate social views. For four damn years, I lived a lie and pretended to be something I was not just to try to change my identity and to piss off certain people in my life by embracing the chaotic and insane version of what the Republican Party has become today.
I remember the first time I started to actually care about politics. I was (and still am) a devout fan of extreme heavy metal. Now, for anyone not familiar with the lyrical themes of heavy metal, they usually consist of one of three topics: gore, personal trauma, an absolute disdain for organized religion (mainly Christianity) and an embrace of LaVeyen Satanism (a non-theistic version of Satanism created by Anton LaVey). But I wasn’t just a fan of heavy metal music. I devoted myself to the heavy metal lifestyle. Anything I could do to make it incredibly obvious to everyone around me that I was an ardent heavy metal fan I did so vigorously. This included wearing heavy metal t-shirts with grotesque and anti-Christian images or logos to school (knowing full-well they would be offensive to everyone around me), getting someone in my art class to paint an inverted cross on my head (ala Glen Benton of the death metal band Deicide) and ranting about how mad I was at anyone who claimed to hold religious beliefs (especially Christianity). I wanted everyone to know that I thought religion was an antiquated and irrational concept that encouraged herd mentality and was responsible for all things wrong in the world.
I was in my senior year of high school when the 2004 presidential election was happening. My economics teacher assigned us to watch the second debate between the Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry and the Republican incumbent President George W. Bush. I did so, and my initial reaction was that I thought it was the most boring thing I had ever seen in my life…until the question of abortion came up. Finally, I thought to myself, an area where I could use my hatred of religion and apply it to politics. President Bush gave the stereotypical conservative answer that he thought abortion was wrong and wanted to overturn Roe vs. Wade and likewise Senator Kerry gave the standard liberal answer and emphasized the importance of choice. Now, I didn’t have a fundamental understanding of the iconic Supreme Court case; I just looked at it from the perspective that there were religious nut-jobs in the country who were trying to use legislation to curtail women’s access to abortion. When I came into class the next day, my teacher specifically asked me what my impressions of the debate were. I said “if I were eligible to vote I would vote for John Kerry because I’m uncomfortable with having a very religious person in office and Bush’s views on abortion are proof that he’s a religious nut job.” My teacher smirked and made a subtle comment about how it was “interesting” that someone would base a decision like voting for president on an issue like abortion. I didn’t know it at the time, but what he really meant was that I wasn’t concerned with dignified and important issues like economics or foreign policy and instead focused on an insignificant social issue like abortion.
That moment will stick with me forever. It will stick with me because ultimately that is my one political opinion that has never (and will never) change. Throughout my interest in politics, I’ve always been pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. But then a funny thing happened during my freshman year at Pace University; I smoked weed for the first time and loved it (editor’s note: I still do and maintain the opinion that it should be legal everywhere). Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, I heard there was a political party that advocated for the legalization of marijuana. It was the Libertarian party, and I was all too eager to sign up. Like most people who only casually understand Libertarianism, I only joined because I wanted pot to be legal and completely ignored all of their other policies (get the government out of helping the poor, helping people who’ve been discriminated against, helping people who want to go to college, etc.). While I did buy into Libertarians view of government (there should be none, just privatize everything), I began to have severe issues with their views on defense. Libertarians are typically against any form of intervention and frown upon massive defense spending.
I had started to become more hawkish (and conservative) after I saw how my professors would make eye-rolling statements about the War on Terror and talk about what a moron George W. Bush was. I became increasingly mortified with my professors and felt I was being indoctrinated with liberal, socialist and even communist views. I also became infuriated with living in the liberal haven of New York City. I stopped watching MSNBC and reading Media Matters and started watching Fox News and visiting conservative websites like The Weekly Standard, National Review and Right Wing News. I started reading about the history of the Republican Party and its great leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. This was all happening during 2007, which was the year Hilary Clinton and (then) Senator Barack Obama were fighting for the democratic nomination. I watched as the media became infatuated with soon-to-be President Obama and exalted his celebrity status. By this time, I had become an ardent Rudy Giuliani supporter and defended everything from his changes on social views to his terrible appearance at an NRA conference where he answered his phone in the middle of a speech. Obviously, Rudy Giuliani was far from the first choice of most Republicans and conservatives and was constantly labelled as a RINO (Republican in Name Only), as was I for supporting him. But, I figured if Ann Coulter was on my side, who could fault me for supporting Giuliani instead of an authentically conservative candidate like current Kansas Governor Sam Brownback?
I began to notice how alienated I became the more I developed this conservative identity. I was almost purposely alienating myself from my liberal family, my fellow students at Pace University, and even among old friends who once considered me to be sane. But I didn’t care because I wore this newfound socially-moderate neoconservative Republicanism on my sleeve. I considered it a badge of honor when people (I assume that were liberal) would roll their eyes at me with writhing disgust when I would publicly discuss how awesome it would be to bomb Iran and how everybody on welfare was an unintelligent parasite. Did I have a certain amount of reticence about joining a party with the exact same people who five years prior I would’ve lambasted as religious psychos? Was I uncomfortable with the fact that despite my willingness to tolerate social conservatives’ status in the GOP, they weren’t willing to accept people like me who occasionally divagated from Republican orthodoxy? Sure. But it was too late. By this time, I became ensconced in conservatism and the Republican Party. I had already compartmentalized all my previous criticisms of these people and instead saw them as good people that I had minor theological disagreements with (I was still an atheist, just no longer outspoken). Thus began four years where I would constantly break my own cardinal sin; trying to pretend to be something I wasn’t.
By the end of 2007, it became clear that Rudy Giuliani was not going to be the Republican nominee for the 2008 presidential election. I didn’t really have a problem with Senator John McCain and instantly knew that I was going to vote for him the moment he won the nomination. Of course, everyone I knew thought I was crazy and could not understand how I couldn’t see the brilliance of the former Harvard Law professor. Of course, nothing I did mattered as John McCain was a terrible presidential candidate and had chosen an astoundingly unqualified running mate, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Even though I knew the pair would eventually face an ignominious defeat, I remained defiant and defended not only John McCain, but also Sarah Palin (a task that would prove to be incredibly difficult). Naturally, I was not pleased with the result of Barack Obama being elected President in November of 2008. But this was also when I started to question my newfound beliefs. Because it was at this point the Tea Party rose to become the most prominent force not only in the conservative movement, but also the Republican Party.
At first, I was able to tolerate the Tea Party. I ignored the idiots who held up “get your government hands off my Medicare” signs at rallies and instead focused on defending the flat tax, defending limited government and figuring out how our newly elected President would unleash his socialist utopia on the masses. But it never happened. Oh sure, I pretended like the stimulus package passed in 2009 was the worst thing in the world and would only lead to big government spending on projects that would fail. I ignored columnists who pointed out that without the stimulus, America would have been worse off in dealing with the worst financial crises since the Great Depression and instead held the conservative line. During the health-care debate, I adamantly opposed what I was told was government run socialist health-care but in reality was the same legislation that had been proposed by many Republicans (including the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts). I felt myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with the conservative movement and the GOP, and found it harder and harder to defend their untenable (and extreme) positions. But I wanted to remain loyal to the party, despite my apprehensions and discomfort with the inflammatory rhetoric and behavior of Republicans in congress.
Naturally, since I thought of myself as a true conservative, I became enamored with talk radio. The very people who I used to mock through snippets of their rants on Media Matters I was now devoted fans of. I remember in March of 2010, I was driving in the car and listening to Glenn Beck. His guest was conservative author (and now conspiracy film-maker) Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza was promoting his book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, and he discussed the basic premise which was that President Obama’s political views stem from the anti-colonial beliefs held by his father (who President Obama never even met). Beck immediately ate it up and felt he was presented with an accurate representation of President Obama’s foundation for his views on life, race, politics and even religion. He basically used D’Souza’s specious claims to justify his infamous “President Obama has a deep-seeded hatred for white people” comment that he made in June of 2009. After I got done listening to the interview, I immediately shut off the radio and pulled over. I had to stop driving because I was positive I was going to vomit. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. It was a defense of the indefensible. There was not even one iota of skepticism on Beck’s part. He just sat by and let a complete lunatic utter complete nonsense and make spurious claims to millions of people. I felt sickened and disgusted.
Unfortunately, this became the constant trend that would continue to destabilize my quest to become comfortable with my conservative political beliefs. In the following years, especially during the beginning of the 2012 election, I would hear something so crazy from people I would ordinarily look up to and revere, that it became impossible to defend them. I watched conservatives and Republicans say incredibly stupid and irresponsible things like Social Security is a Ponzi scheme (Texas Governor Rick Perry), Turkey is a country that is being ruled by Islamic terrorists (again, Rick Perry), the key to economic success is tearing down random departments of government (again, Rick Perry and retired psychopath Ron Paul) and that if President Obama is re-elected, we will turn into a “secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American” (Newt Gingrich). Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, another 2012 presidential contender, said that HPV vaccines made a child mentally retarded after one of the many Republican primary debates (or as most people referred to them, clown shows). To this day, I still question why Herman Cain was allowed to even participate in the 2012 presidential race at all (let alone why he was the front-runner for almost two months). It angered me to no end that the conservative movement was intentionally trying not to nominate Mitt Romney, a man who I was convinced would inject some much needed sanity into the GOP and pull swing voters and independents our way through his moderate social views and fiscal conservatism. I was hoping he would make the case that the new health care law (one that was based entirely on his approach to implementing near-universal health care in Massachusetts) is a good start but could be vastly improved. I was hoping he would repudiate the Tea Party approach to government and say that we need to do more than just advocate for low taxes and small government. I was hoping he would run as the pragmatic Governor of Massachusetts. None of this would come to fruition.
Romney ran on a platform the catered entirely to the Tea Party and shuttered at any notion of moderation. He refused to say he would accept a 10-to-1 spending cuts for revenue package during one of the primary debates. He picked Paul Ryan as a running mate and immediately endorsed his budget and approach to Medicare (turning it into a voucher system). When he said at CPAC 2012 that he was a “severe conservative”, I just told myself that was his attempt to suck up to social conservatives and the Tea Party (something which I understood was a necessary evil for Romney). I told myself the real Romney would come out after he won the nomination, a process that took way too long and ultimately ended up hurting him in the general campaign. But by the time he was actually nominated, I could tell that the pragmatic and moderate Romney was never going to show up. He had convinced himself that he really was a severe conservative, and the policies that he promulgated during the campaign ultimately reflected that.
By this time, I didn’t know what to do. By August of 2012, I was certain that President Obama would be re-elected. After watching a man I defended vigorously for over a year continue to self-immolate in the general campaign, I began to wish that former Senator Rick Santorum had won the nomination instead of Mitt Romney. It would have been so much easier to vote for President Obama in that scenario, as there was no way that overzealous theocrat (Santorum) would ever get my vote. I continued to tell myself that I would eventually come around and vote for the man I had previously defended, but I didn’t. September turned out to be an even worse month for Romney than August was (that was when the “97%” video was released). I saw Joe Scarborough that morning and basically had the same reaction he did. He knew the race was lost. He knew this videotape would cement Romney’s status as an out of touch plutocrat that didn’t offer any substantive policies to help the middle class. He knew that Romney’s advisors were telling Romney that his campaign didn’t have to elaborate on policy because there was no way that minorities and young voters would turn out in droves for President Obama like they did in 2008. He knew exactly what David Frum knew; that Romney was being twisted into pretzels to fit into something he wasn’t, and that the people who put the cement shoes on Romney would ultimately end up blaming him for sinking.
So I went in on Election Day and voted to re-elect President Obama. By 10:00 PM on Election Day, I saw exactly what I expected to happen and watched Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and Iowa all turn blue. I had hoped that this past election would be the reality check the Republican Party needed. I had hoped that this past election would serve as the clear warning sign that just opposing everything President Obama did and said was not an effective strategy to win elections. I had hoped that Republicans would learn the lesson that it was unwise to create a platform based on what the Tea Party wants since they have an approval rating of less than 20 percent. I had hoped for some sort of common sense to prevail. I was sadly let down once again.
The train wreck that is the Republican Party continues to get worse every day. After the election, I watched in agony as I witnessed Republican members of congress Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann claim that there were members of the Muslim Brotherhood giving advice to and in effect running our government. I watched in horror as I saw Rick Santorum, Senator Mike Lee and Senator James Inhofe claim that the U.N. Disability Treaty (that was signed in 1991 by George H.W. Bush) would enable the U.N. to come in and take handicapped kids from their homes. By the time I heard Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey defend Todd Akin’s views on “legitimate rape” and Richard Mourdock’s views about how pregnancy from rape is indeed God’s intention, I had lost all hope. I realized that all the trouble I went through to feel comfortable as a Republican wasn’t worth it anymore. In December of 2012, I officially left the Republican Party and became an Independent.
Despite all the inner turmoil I put myself through, I ended up learning a valuable lesson. That lesson for me was in order to be truly comfortable with yourself, you just have to be who you really are. About two months ago, Jonah Goldberg of National Review wrote a column that basically confirmed what I always suspected; Republicans and conservatives don’t want socially liberal, fiscally conservative minded people (like I once was) in their party. They only want ardent conservatives in their party who view concepts like moderation or compromise with complete and utter contempt. But by that time, I was all too happy to not be a part of that movement anymore. I’m happy being a moderate liberal. I’m happy to have a president who governs as a moderate. Most importantly, I’m happy there’s still one party that has a place at the table for moderates, and understands the necessity of having an actual big tent.