But there were two seminal events in my adolescence, entirely unrelated, that formed my adult political consciousness and led to me casting my first vote (and nearly every one since) for Democratic candidates: I read James McGregor Burns’ two part biography of Franklin Roosevelt, which laid out how FDR fought for ordinary Americans – going back to when he ran for the New York State Senate in 1910 and the hot button issue was the size of apple barrels; I came out as a gay man.
I vividly recall in 1984, when Walter Mondale was slaughtered by Ronald Reagan, that my grandmother had a young boarder. J. was a genuine holy-roller (she even took me once to her Assembly of God congregation, where I witnessed the whole song & dance: “praise JEE-zus”, speaking in tongues, etc.). When J. announced her opposition to Democrats, she shouted that it was because “they’re for gay rights!” (How many LGBT young people encounter bigotry from those unthinking fools who never pause to consider who they may be proselytizing to?) Thanks to J., the division for me between the two parties was as clear as the fight to defend the United States against those who wanted to turn our country into JEE-zusland.
Where did we go wrong? As Nixon (arguably, our last economically liberal President) said, “Follow the money”. The recent Supreme Court ruling expanding corporate rights at the expense of people’s rights has only exacerbated an already dismally money driven political system. Did the ruling fire up Democrats to fight for the values that made them America’s majority party from the 1932 to 1980? On the contrary. In the wake of the ruling Party leadership caved to moneyed interests. America’s political scene has now devolved to the extent that there is very little difference between the two major parties: The Republican Party is controlled by corporations and the religious fundamentalists. The Democratic Party is controlled by corporations and labor unions.
This was not always the case. The Republican Party under Theodore Roosevelt fought not only for individuals, but for small businesses by writing and enforcing anti-monopoly laws. It was partly over that issue that T. R. left the Republicans in 1912 and ran as a Progressive. Many people doubted the viability of a Third Party candidate, but Roosevelt came in second place, ahead of the incumbent President, William Howard Taft. Following the election, there was no illusion that the Republican Party represented any constituency other than big business. But it was not until the Great Depression that Franklin Roosevelt aligned the Democratic Party firmly with the disenfranchised and enacted economic policies that arguably created the American middle-class. But in the 21st Century, those that Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt respectively called “malefactors of great wealth” and “money changers” now hold all too many cards.
The situation has devolved. As Gore Vidal once said “America has many elections, but no politics.”
So, it’s with a heavy heart that I formally announce that I am leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Green Party. My heart has been with the Greens for nearly a decade anyway. Once the party of Franklin Roosevelt - who signed Social Security into law, and Harry Truman - who advocated for single payer health care, the Democratic Party has lost its people-centered mojo. No wonder the Democratic laity is so dispirited. I am reminded once again of Truman’s line: Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time. (Ironically, one of the few Democrats to avoid this fate is Dennis Kucinich, who continues to win by large margins, and who I would support in a heartbeat if I lived in his district.)
It’s not just because Democrats have come under the mercy of their corporate masters, not just that they failed to enact the single payer health care system Truman wanted, not just that a Democratic President is continuing to wage the last Republican President’s war of choice, not just that our bass-akward tax system has not been reformed and brought in line with other advanced nations. Nor is it merely because the Democrats have been nearly as unenthusiastic about protecting the environment as Republicans - refusing to endorse the shared sacrifice that will be necessary if humanity is to make it to the 22nd Century in one piece.
As a gay man, I take very personally Barack Obama’s lackadaisical approach to the issues that affect people like me. President Obama has done everything possible to avoid moving effectively on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; he has not signed legislation outlawing employment discrimination against LGBT people; his justice department is not aggressively enforcing the Hate Crimes Legislation that he did very little to pass. Worst of all, he has had the audacity, the unmitigated gall, to allow his justice department to compare my marriage with bestiality, incest, and pedophilia. Given that two generations ago, his own parents would not have been allowed to marry in broad swaths of the United States, I can only ask: How dare he?
Mr. President, my love matters.
My decision doesn’t mean that I will never again vote for a Democrat. Where there are no Green Party candidates available, I may well hold my nose and vote for the Democratic candidate – even a moderate one. Hell, in the past, I’ve even voted for the occasional Republican – like William Weld when he ran against John Silber for Governor of Massachusetts. I always vote for the best person for the job. Sadly, Democratic candidates are finding themselves co-opted by corporations as Republicans have been since the 1920s, and they are rarely the best people for the job anymore.
There are those who would say: “But, Hank, doesn’t supporting the Green Party mean that in effect you’re really supporting the Republicans, because it will divert from Democratic votes?” I can only reply that I am no longer willing to support the “least-worst” option and ignore my conscience when there is another choice. I would also point out that many early Republicans faced that same dilemma when they left the Whig party. I would also state that this is not 2000 when the Democratic Party had an arguably Green candidate in Al Gore; we are not in Florida, and the “add one - subtract another” paradigm no longer applies. I am fully cognizant that the Green Party candidates I will be voting for have very little chance of being elected…this time. But one has to start somewhere. And sometimes, one just has to make a stand. For me, that time has come. In the end, I can only echo what Ronald Reagan said when he changed parties: “I didn’t abandon my party. It abandoned me.”