We live in interesting and perilous times here in the good old U. S. of A. Our economy is on the ropes; nearly 1 out of every 10 Americans of working age can’t find a job. If you include those people who are underemployed (part-timers – like myself – and those who are discouraged and have given up looking for work), the nation’s real unemployment rate hovers anywhere from 16.5% to 22%, depending on whose statistics you believe.
Politically, our nation is divided as never before. I’ve been following the political discourse in America since long before I could vote, and I cannot recall any other time during my nearly six decade-long life when Americans were more polarized in their political positions than they are right now.
Politics in America at the dawn of the 2010’s seem pretty simple at present: pick a portion of the political spectrum that most closely matches your personal beliefs; join the political party that most closely aligns with your viewpoints; and begin vociferously espousing the orthodox talking points put forth by your party of choice. If you’re a self-confessed liberal, you’ll most likely find yourself a Democrat who champions the host of leftward-leaning Democratic Party political causes. You’ll have an almost autonomic and pathological hatred of all things Republican. If you’re a Republican, you’ll most assuredly be a conservative who clings tightly to the right-wing political playbook and despises all liberals and Democrats with equal fervor…
Stuck in the middle of these two warring political factions are people like me… moderates and independents who don’t see things according to any orthodox political playbook, but instead believe that a moderate and centrist path, drawing the best that all points on the political spectrum have to offer, is the best course to take.
I am 58 years old and I grew up with a fervent interest in politics since long before I could vote. The first presidential election I can remember was the one in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. (I remember it vividly because I actually got to see both candidates in person and shake their hands!) I remember watching the televised debates in September 1960 and the election returns later that November. Both my parents were strong Nixon supporters, but I liked Kennedy instead… my very first act of political independence.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, I maintained a strong interest in politics and dabbled in political activism for a brief time. The main issues of the day were civil rights; Vietnam; and the Great Society and War on Poverty. My political heroes included: John F. Kennedy; Lyndon B. Johnson (before his legacy was tarnished by Vietnam); Eugene McCarthy; Robert F. Kennedy; and Martin Luther King, Jr. – liberals and Democrats all.
It seemed foreordained, then, that when it came time for me to register to vote, I would proclaim myself a liberal and a Democrat; and indeed this is what I did. The year 1972 was the first election in which I could vote. I proudly voted for Senator George McGovern in his losing race against the about-to-be-disgraced President Richard Nixon.
I remained a committed liberal/Democrat for the next eight years. But events in my life were causing me to reassess my political beliefs. In 1976, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and began what eventually became a 22-year long career. I watched with increasing disgust as President Jimmy Carter mismanaged the affairs of state during his four years in office; I found my political spirits revived again throughout the eight years Ronald Reagan was President. In 1984, I voted for Reagan, even though I was still registered as a Democrat.
Surprisingly, it was the presidency of George H.W. Bush, and not that of Ronald Reagan, that convinced me to abandon my affiliation with the Democratic Party and re-register as a Republican. Bush-41 seemed like my kind of President: smart (although prone to occasional political gaffes like “read my lips: no – new – taxes); compassionate (He signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other things); and tough as nails when he needed to be (he took on Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and ejected Saddam Hussein’s regime from Kuwait.)
I remained a registered Republican through most of the 1990s. I supported President George H.W. Bush in his unsuccessful re-election bid against Bill Clinton. I followed Clinton’s two terms carefully. Although I never cared for Clinton personally (I always thought of him as a slick-talking charlatan), I could see that he was a tremendously capable chief executive who got results when it counted most!
By the early 2000s, as America’s political discourse became more and more strident during the presidency of George W. Bush, my life experiences had forged within me a new political philosophy that drew what I found best from all points on the political spectrum. Because I saw each political party in America becoming increasingly entrenched in extreme partisan positions that I could no longer unquestioningly support; and because I am by nature an independent thinker who seeks an understanding of all sides of political issues, I eventually bid a hearty “pox on all your houses” and dropped all party affiliations.
From the right, I draw my belief in a strong America, one that stands up for itself and for others, in the best traditions of JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis; Ronald Reagan and the raid on Libya in 1986, Bush-41 in Panama and Desert Storm; Clinton in Bosnia; and Bush-43 and Obama in the continuing War on Terror.
From the center I draw my belief in a compassionate capitalist system that provides freedom of opportunity for all to rise as far in society as their abilities will take them, unfettered by government over-regulation and excessive taxation; and in the primacy of private property ownership.
From the left, I maintain my long-held beliefs in the full equality of all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, political beliefs, or sexual preference; in our proper stewardship of the environment; the dignity and worthiness of the American working class; and the protection of the less affluent in society against the excesses of the rich.
It’s tough being a politically moderate independent in the America of the 2010s. Amidst all the shrill partisan rhetoric, it’s very difficult to make one’s voice heard on issues of the day. Very few people seem interested in hearing the political musings of a moderate independent. History teaches us, however, that in most elections, it is usually the moderate independent who ultimately decides which candidates win and which ones lose.
And I find great satisfaction in that.