This is one progressive who is dissatisfied with the Democratic Party, its leadership, and its candidates

I’m a card-carrying Democrat, and I have been since I first registered to vote when I turned 18, back in those heady days of 1991. But I’ve never felt particularly comfortable voting the party line. Hell, my first Presidential vote was for Ross Perot because I wasn’t convinced that Bill Clinton would be good for the country. Thankfully I was wrong about Clinton, and I was quite happy to vote for him the second time around.

But even back then I was more comfortable voting straight Democratic than I am now. Part of what drove me to drift away from the Democratic Party line was discussions with my friends in college. I remember one guy who was a Democrat not because he believed in the platform, but because he was a union supporter and because his father was a Democrat. And I recall telling him that was just plain stupid, that it was more important to vote your beliefs than it was to vote your dad’s.

Another thing that happened was my macroeconomics class, where the prof said over and over “I don’t blame either party – there’s more than enough blame to go around.” I gained confidence in myself and my ability to make my own choices when I choose to abandon my childhood faith in favor of self-created spirituality and through my training in the martial art Tang Soo Do. But it was the sudden and horrifying realization that I, someone who had been raised to be tolerant since the day I was born, was a racist and a bigot (now in recovery) that forced me to reassess many of my core beliefs about myself and the world around me.

College and grad school were turbulent times for me, as they were for most of my fellow students, but I came out of them with a better understanding of just what really mattered to me, and a realization that the political views of my youth were naive at best.

Ever since then, I’ve watched politics with an eye for who represents me and my beliefs. And over the years, I’ve come to realize that no-one represents me – not the Democratic Party I belong to nor the Republican Party I oppose on nearly every policy. Yet I remain a registered Democrat because I’m unwilling to be cut out of the primary and caucus process in my state and, quite frankly, because as misguided as much of the Democratic Party is, their policies still far more accurately represent my own.

But my particular brand of progressivism has left the Democratic Party behind. I’m anti-Iraq but pro-Afghanistan. I’m free trade except when I’m not, and I’m anti-union until I see a job sector being exploited by management. I’m pro-choice and pro-death penalty. I think the government should get out of the way of corporations whenever possible, but I also think that corporate personhood is one of the most screwed up ideas ever conceived by man. I believe in a strong military, but as only one component of a policy of national authority that also includes diplomacy, economics, and cultural “soft power.” I believe that taxes should be lower, but only as low as they can be without adversely affecting the effectiveness of the government. And above all, I believe that the nation has serious problems that need to be addressed in a thoughtful, wise, and pragmatic fashion.

So, who represents me?

Not the Republicans. The only pro-choice candidate from the GOP is Rudy Giuliani, but he’s pro-tax cuts and against universal health care even though it’s becoming obvious that our country needs it to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Mitt Romney supports the abstinence-only sex ed even though it doesn’t work and he’s against same-sex marriage. John McCain is pro-Iraq. Tom Tancredo is a bigoted nativist. Fred Thompson is against campaign finance reform and supports privatization of social security. Sam Brownback believes that the only constituent that matters is God, and to Hell with the rest of us. And Ron Paul is so libertarian that he’d wipe the federal government off the map if he could, even though it’s the only entity that can address most of the problems facing the United States.

What’s more disturbing, though, is that the leadership of my own Democratic Party doesn’t represent me either. Hillary Clinton is pro-Iraq and supports the fatally flawed Kyoto Protocol. Mike Gravel opposes the death penalty. Bill Richardson is pro-coal. Barak Obama supports biofuels and building (ineffectual) fences along the southern border. And John Edwards? Well, right now, I actually can’t find anything wrong with John Edwards – but I suspect that there’s something out there that I just haven’t found yet.

The Democratic Party is even worse than the candidates they’re fielding for the 2008 election. The Party website claims to be about “honest government and open government,” yet the supposed “earmark reform” was hardly a reform, and the House under Nancy Pelosi is nearly as insular and anti-minority as it was under Republican Tom Delay. The party claims to support renewable fuels but is still beholden to politically-convenient corn ethanol subsidies instead of using that money for cellulosic ethanol. As a supporter of globalization, the nativist tendencies in the “keep US jobs at home” wing of the party just make me shake my head in amazement. And its become painfully obvious that we’re going to have to slash benefits, raise the age at which Social Security benefits kick in, increase taxes, and raise the effective retirement age in order to keep Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid solvent, yet the Democratic Party is too beholden to its own special interests to speak this particular inconvenient truth to the U.S. citizenry.

And of course, if you happen to support the idea that sometime military force is justified in the service of our national interest, you can just forget the entire anti-war liberal wing of the party too.

So while I’m a registered Democrat, I’m not really a Democrat – I’m an independent with progressive tendencies who wants to be as involved as possible.

I’m OK with voting for candidates who don’t exactly represent my views – I don’t expect that there are many out there with the wealth to make an effective run for the Presidency who hold most of my views. But I’m tired of voting, both in primaries and the general elections, against one candidate or another or for the lesser of several evils. And I’m tired of the candidates I help elect interpreting my vote as a mandate when it isn’t one. And I’m tired of both parties corrupting the system with power grabs that never lead anywhere productive.

Politics shouldn’t be this way. Our country deserves better.

21 replies »

  1. Brian,

    I see you’ve been paying attention to Sam’s and my discussion. 🙂

    The problem here is multifaceted–first, you don’t define your positions clearly enough. “Free trade except when I’m not?” What does that mean? Why are you anti-union?

    Second, politicians try to be all things to all people, which is why they so often reveal themselves as smarmy and calculating. The best ones are those who stake out turf and say “This is what I’m for–like it or don’t,” because then you can debate them honestly and openly. That’s the key behind the Obama and Thompson campaigns–as long as they were amorphous “agents of change,” their images and appeal sold their packages. Now that they’re “out and proud” and have to define themselves on the issues, people are finding things to like or hate. You’ll probably NEVER find a candidate who espouses your EXACT ideology unless you yourself run.

    Third, that’s really the key. Much like Bonddad who was lamenting about how it was hard out there for a pro-business liberal, you can’t expect to be catered to. You have to build agreements and compromise to succeed–particularly in the fractured, solipsistic state of modern politics, where people’s issues are paramount over all other things. This is where I give Kos credit–he was all about building winning coalitions and bringing different people together, but he began to espouse party loyalty and electing Democrats over electing real *progressive* Democrats.

    I understand your frustration and share it, but ultimately the best way to see traction on the issues you want is to either become the leader yourself or build the coalition to support the issues you want–or persuade the existing leaders to see things your way.

  2. While John Edwards likes to talk about his father being a mill worker, my father was a legal child laborer for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Officially, the poison-peddlers gave my father credit for 55.5 years of service to the company when he retired at age 65. On the other hand, my father said he had worked closer to 60 years, but that the “progressive” company wouldn’t give him credit for the time because they would have to admit how young they hired him. So, I’m not really impressed with that fact that John Edward’s daddy was a mill worker.

    I have had only one contact with John Edwards. It was during his brief tenure as “my” Senator from the Great State of North Carolina. I found the man to be spineless and mealymouthed. Since then, I have had absolutely no confidence in him. The fact that I strongly suspect him to be a draft-dodger during Vietnam doesn’t improve my confidence in the well-coffered weasel.

    Forget that boy’s silly overpriced haircuts. John Edwards’ various missteps since once again entering the presidential fray strongly suggest that the man is unable to attract talented advisers. Anyone who would BUILD a multimillion-dollar mansion while, at the same time, launching a poverty-based presidential campaign is brassy and stupid! Any campaign manager who would go along with the scheme is either morally bankrupt or incredibly stupid.

    Convincing a dozen people that the current healthcare system is corrupt and greedy takes a little less skill than convincing a few million gullible citizens to vote for more glib promises. As a lawyer, John Edwards garnered a reputation for sophistry rather than science. He apparently knew how to paint lipstick on legal pigs and play juries like cheap violins.

    These days, John Edwards seems to be doing little more than play the voters like he played juries. He has done absolutely nothing to convince me that his concern for the poor is anything more than a cheap political trick borrowed from some Third World banana republic dictator.

    I voted for Bill Clinton. I voted for Al Gore. I voted for John Edwards a decade ago when he ran for the Senate. I even went so far as to vote for him in the Democratic primary in 2004 because I didn’t feel as if I had much of a choice. However, I would just as soon give George W. Bush an unlawful third term as to vote for John Edwards in 2008.

    Beyond John Edwards, the truth is that I really don’t like anyone running on the Democratic ticket this time around. Despite the fact that the Republicans are falling apart, Gingrich-in-a-skirt Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calls into question whether the Democrats are even fit to govern.

    When the Democratically-controlled Congress has a lower approval rating that George W. Bush, Democrats seems to more closely resemble a convention of “Trekkies” than the governing political party! John Edwards in his fancy house and prim hairdo, asking voters to “beam” him “up” to the White House isn’t help the party’s inept image.

  3. I suppose everyone will have a go at aspects of your “confession” 😉 although I agree with you in most respects.

    I registered to vote in South Africa in 1994. It was our first election and I had only recently attained my majority. I stood in line and I spoiled my vote. I wanted to participate and be part of that first election but … I’ve never felt that any party represents me or even tried.

    And I’ve never bothered since. Our government is too centralised for local interests to be catered to and there yours, at least, differs.

    Still, I query your stance on corporate personhood. Prior to the 19th century it was a crime to go bankrupt. Creditors would put bankrupts in jail for life, debts would get passed on to the next generations and the “stain” would destroy entire families, sending them in to exile. (Australia, g’day.) Debts could even get passed on to the bankrupt’s suppliers.

    This punitive cascade could wipe out entire communities as businesses were stripped of their assets to settle debts far upstream.

    Bankruptcy reform also introduced corporate personhood. Investors only lose the sum they invested. Corporations can enter into contracts on their own without every single investor having to sign a personal surety.

    Without it you would render pension funds impossible. Do you really want to be responsible for the bankruptcy of some company that your pension fund administrator took a gander on? The administrator’s responsibility is to maintain a particular return. What he loses in one investment, he makes back in another. It shouldn’t destroy the entire fund or require the daily commitment of every pension contributor to run the fund.

    As for John Edwards, I see he’s taken quite a beating here already. I only ponder tort reform in the US. Many South African exporters I meet complain about the astonishing cost of tort insurance in the US and how expensive it makes everything. And how fearful it makes importers to try new things for fear of being sued.

    I can’t begin to imagine how much it adds to the cost of medical care and I’m not sure that having a tort lawyer in charge is going to improve things.

  4. Martin, I wasn’t trying to give policy specifics, but rather broad examples of why the Democrats often don’t appeal to me personally. I’m sure that most people who would consider re-branding themselves as “progressive” vs. “liberal” has similar individual issues with the Democratic Party. The difference is that I was egotistical enough to think that everyone reading S&R wanted to hear about my issues. 😉

    I am trying to bring people around to my way of thinking, however. Thus the massive policy post I did last week. I lack the money to be an effective politician (at least until the system is reworked to allow the non-super rich classes a chance at political leadership), so I’m shooting for “behind the scenes architect” myself.

    Gavin – the problem with corporate personhood isn’t that it’s entirely bad, but that the way it’s handled in the U.S. is very bad. Corporations here claim, often successfully, the same “rights” to free speech (and thus campaign donations), assembly, etc. that individual people do (here’s a longer post I did on it a while back). As you mention, without some kind of corporate personhood there would be a lot of problems, but assemblages of people should not have the same rights as individual people do.

  5. You’re a niche market, Brian. (“A focused, targetable portion of a market sector,” according to Wikipedia. “A niche market may be thought of as a narrowly defined group of potential customers. Such ventures are profitable because of disinterest on the part of large businesses.”)

    Unfortunately, a national election, unlike a district or even congressional election, is too big to succeed by targeting a niche market. You either have to take what they’re offering or do without.

    It may be sacrilege to invoke this, but not voting is a statement in itself.

  6. Russ, not voting isn’t an option as far as I’m concerned.

    I realize that my views are sufficiently varied that the only candidate who could probably grab them all is Brian Angliss for President, and I’d never get elected (the fact I have no chance is another problem with the system, IMO). But we have a system that is inherently biased toward a 2-party system, one representing the “freedom” wing of the nation and the other representing the “equality” wing. What we don’t have is a party that represents the body of the nation instead of the wings.

  7. I have to admit, if any of the candidates had my exact policy views on all the issues, that would really freak me out.

    I have reservations with those who vote for candidates purely on their policy stances. Being a president is more than just signing the bills into law I want him to sign. More than just the political conclusions he comes to about the issues, I want to see how he came about those conclusions. More than just telling me what I want to hear, I’d want him to challenge the party line to take alternative solutions into consideration. I don’t want to vote for someone just because they agree with me, I’d want him to take the entire nation’s welfare into account beyond my personal political views. If we are entrusting a person to lead this entire nation, he must be greater than any one set of policy initiatives.

    What. Am I asking too much?

  8. threebells wrote”…I would just as soon give George W. Bush an unlawful third term as to vote for John Edwards in 2008.”

    And this would be because George W. Bush did what during Vietnam? Fly around a little in Texas, then take extended “leave” to go “work” on some Alabama racist’s campaign and screw UA sorority girls?

    And that “illegal” thing about a Bush third term – since he ignores the law pretty much at will, he might present you with a fait accompli – he remains president (national “emergency”) and you don’t even have to vote. If Bush has the kind of “decisiveness” you admire, God help us all…

    Your anger at Edwards seems misplaced. He’s at least admitted he was stupid to vote for Bush’s little adventure called Iraq. So what if he dodged Vietnam. I had deferments and fought to keep them. He did the same. Why go to a stupid war being fought to enrich military contractors (that would be the “military-industrial complex” Ike warned about – corporate interests who drove Vietnam policy as much as Johnson or McNamara did)? I “dodged” Vietnam, too, perhaps, by your criteria and I’m not a damned bit sorry I did. If a legitimate foe to this nation appears, I’ll do my bit. But phony wars for corporations whether in SE Asia or the Middle East? Let Boeing and Blackwater fight them – and bill out to the corporations who want them fought….Fight terrorism when it’s identified? Yes. Fight for oil because it serves Dick Cheney’s cronies? No.

    Yeah, Edwards made his money suing corporations for preying on people . Corporate lawyers make their money protecting corporations from being punished for their predations. If they can’t beat him, all the more reason to elect him. As for playing juries, if it works….I’m all for letting John smarm and charm Congress to get them to do something to level the playing field for the majority of us who didn’t inherit great wealth. It’ll be a nice change from Dubya stamping his feet and saying “my way or the highway” when Congress won’t pass another law to enrich his already too rich friends….

    While you’re blasting away at the Dems, btw, take a look at how the Republicans have treated the American people since 1981. It was the Republicans who defeated universal health care – to enrich insurance providers and drug companies. It was Republicans who allowed credit card companies to prey on ignorance and create our debt crisis – then passed bankruptcy “reform” to keep people in thrall to predatory creditors. It was the Republicans who rescued Chrysler and Ford and kept the “big car-big energy use” mess going. It was the Republicans who’ve started one unnecessary war after another – Panama, Grenada, Iraq I, Iraq II. It has been the Republicans who have consistently opposed every attempt to get this country to look at the global heating crisis soberly and attempt to address it. It’s been the Republicans who’ve kowtowed to the religious right and made every move possible to move this country toward theocracy.

    It’s the Republicans who’ve done everything they can to violate the spirit of the Preamble of the Constitution. Preserving, defending, protecting the people – yes. Preserving defending, protecting corporate interests – no.

    So damn the Democrats for not opposing them for their wrongdoing – but damn the Republicans for thinking that their personal interests supercede the needs and desires of the majority of Americans.

    Be fair….

  9. But Jim, fairness implies that equality is as important or more important than the freedom to do anything we damn well want to. Screw social contracts, laws, etc. – I want to be freeeeeeee!


    Sorry – I’m in a really cynical mood today….

  10. Well, Sam, I tend to be less than impressed with the “My Daddy was a mill worker” linage when my father was a child laborer who started working at such an early age that he had no idea how long he had worked. Nor, by the way, I really don’t see John Edwards as having been victimized by much of anyone in his life.

    Someone tried to sell me on the idea of John Edwards running for President in late June. When I went to John Edwards’ website, had I not known better, I would have though the boy was running against Ann Coulter! The most charitable thing I can say about John Edwards is that he seems to be out of his league on the national stage.

    John Edwards public persona has the linger smell of magnolias rather than sweat. Even with talented scriptwriters, I am not sure he could convincingly play a man of the people in a television series.

  11. 12. Russ – I was very obliquely referring to the traditional “freedom” focus of the Republican Party vs. the traditional “equality” focus of the Democratic Party as it related to Jim’s “be fair” comment. I’m sorry for the odd, cryptic, and confusing nature of my remark.

  12. 13. threebells – I haven’t studied Edwards (or any of the candidates, really) enough to get a really good feel for their views. I’m resisting doing so because I’ve got a case of campaign fatigue and it’ll only get worse if I actually dive into the candidates themselves. And I figure that I’ll need to study a lot fewer of them if I wait until September or November this year.

    That caveat said, however, my public persona is of an upper-middle class educated engineer working in Aerospace. As such, I probably don’t “smell” much like sweat either. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like to trench and lay pipe for sprinkler systems, or to break up concrete by hand with a sledgehammer, or to work 10 hours a day in 110 degrees in a plastics plant, or to paint house exteriors in the summer, or cut beer labels for 8 hours a day in a printing shop second-shift, or burn my fingers with soldering irons hand-reworking PCBs while inadvertently inhaling lead solder and flux vapors. The difference is that all of those jobs I’ve had over the years makes me appreciate my education and my opportunities all the more.

    Perception matters, but so does reality.

  13. Being an aerospace engineer and running for political office have something in common. In both cases, their projects had better get off the ground. Judging by how well his current campaign is going, if John Edwards had been in Kelly Johnson’s shoes a little over a half a century ago, President Eisenhower wouldn’t have had lie about that little ol’ misunderstood weather flight.

  14. Threebells: You know, I’m not here to tell you how to think. We have a nation full of people who grew up with precious little in the way of real opportunity who seem, for reasons that are at best unfathomable, to identify more strongly with faux good-ole-boys born with a silver spoon up their asses than they do with people who faced exactly what they did.

    Maybe it’s simple jealousy. A guy born rich isn’t a guy who got ahead of you so it’s easier to accept. The guy just like you who was smart, worked his ass, and made good, well, THAT guy is a personal reminder that you DIDN’T make it even though you started in the same spot. So all of a sudden there’s cognitive dissonance and jealousy and self-doubt and a bunch of other stuff to manage.

    I’d be here the rest of the day trying to make rational sense of this, and it would no difference whatsoever. In the end, my point wasn’t that those who grew up working class ought to fall down and worship Edwards because he did, too – it’s that they should understand how powerful forces array to keep folks like him – and them – in their place.

    I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I respect what it takes to get from where Edwards started to where he is now. He may or may not be the right guy for President, but as long as guys like him have to endure cynical class beatdowns by the hereditary have-mores, we’re never going to have the leadership we need in this country, be it GOP, Democrat or otherwise.

  15. The problem with John Edwards is that, much like George W. Bush, he wants to have it both ways.

    George W. Bush became a windshield cowboy on a de facto Texas stage set to try to put a thousand miles of politically distance between the candidate and his Andover-Yale pedigree.

    John Edwards built the most expensive house in Orange County to get as far away as possible from his mill-hill heritage.

    Both are ambitious men are running from themselves. Neither is to be trusted.

  16. I think I have been pretty clear in noting that I don’t think Edwards is Mother Teresa. But I’m still waiting for some demonstration that your criticisms of him don’t apply at least equally to his opponents.

  17. In other words, there is some agreement that Democrats are having some difficulty fielding a decent candidate.

    Actually, as you may recall, I raised this issue in my first post in this thread when I wrote: “. . . truth is that I really don

  18. Threebells, I’m just curious: Who are you actually voting for so far? Which candidate has caught your attention and impressed you, and why?