By reason of ineligibility, I had to decline a friend’s well meaning invitation to vote. I cannot participate in the GOP caucus this weekend because I’m not a Republican. In 2007 I left the GOP over the issue of torture and have been an independent ever since.
At the time, I made a public resignation from my membership in the Republican Party. Therefore it would be disingenuous and unseemly, I told my friend, if I were to declare my re-affiliation temporarily in order to weigh in on the Romney-Santorum-Gingrich-Paul race. Among the four I do have my preferences, but it would be dishonorable to pretend I’m something which I’m not.
The late February ads encouraging Michigan Democrats to declare themselves Republicans in order to vote against Romney was, in my view, an error by Santorum’s campaign. The move constituted yet another blow to the virtue of honor — notwithstanding that honor in today’s politics is about like the virtue of modesty in Lady Gaga.
From childhood I grew up as a Democrat, remaining so through my undergraduate years. But things began to change during the week of my graduation from college. In June, 1968, Bobby Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullet, bringing a bloody halt to the campaign for which many of us had labored. Echoing in my memory, I can still hear RFK’s voice one sunny afternoon in San Diego – “give me your heart, give me your hand, and together we will build a new America.”
The dashing of that sublime hope marked the beginning of my political odyssey. The gradual process of rethinking my partisan position continued during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (August 1968), and Bloody Thursday in Berkeley, CA (May 1969). When Sheriff’s deputies in Berkeley shot and killed James Rector and injured many others, the spectacle of government on the rampage generated waves of political outrage on every college campus in California. As the graduate school representative to the student council, I was closely involved in leading our student body at San Diego State to protest what police and politicians had inflicted on the people of Berkeley. Such tragedies during the 1960s profoundly shook the mindsets of many young people, myself included.
My last year at SDSU was spent as a campus radical and chairman of the Student Mobilization Committee (SMC) against the Vietnam War. Traditional party politics, Democrat or otherwise, played no part in my evolving worldview and lifestyle. As administrative vice-president of the student body (then like a small city of 23,000), I had my own office in the associated students building where I set up residence. During that era of cultural revolution, unorthodox ways to save on rent were neither stigmatized nor unusual. Still, I was the only person actually to reside in Aztec Center.
After leaving college I retained my disdain for materialism. Beacon Hill in the center of Boston became the setting for my own sort of Walden Pond retreat, 1971-1975. There, mine was a life of study, solitude, and Spartan living at 39 Bowdin St., #22 – located about 100 yards behind the Massachusetts State House. Spurning consumerism and the rat race made it easier, surely, to rediscover and nourish my Roman Catholic roots.
My revived faith and morality did, of course, modify my outlook on public affairs. I found myself increasingly at variance with the Democratic Party on cultural issues, and so I gravitated toward the more socially conservative of the two major parties. For more than three decades, I called myself a Republican.
My stint as a GOP activist covered about one decade, 1988-1998. I was honored to serve in various party posts, most notably six years on the state committee that governed the Republican Party of Washington State. However, citing my longstanding commitment to the principle of rotation in office, or term limits, I declined to seek reelection to a fourth term. I returned to my rank-and-file status as a Republican with an uneasy sense of ambivalence about my tour of duty in party leadership. I am told we cut quite a furrow. On the other hand, I fear that we plowed the sea. In any case, we had halcyon days of high ideals.
Then came the presidency of George W. Bush. To celebrate his first inauguration I practiced on the piano and performed for friends, “Hail to the Chief.” As it turned out, Chopin’s Marche Funèbre might have been a better choice. When the President launched his “shock and awe” campaign against Iraqi cities and civilians, I sorely regretted voting for Bush. Before and after the invasion, I marched and wrote in opposition to the Bush/Cheney Administration’s warmongering. Their hubristic foreign policy struck me as base betrayal of the “more humble” approach to other nations that Bush had promised during his first presidential campaign.
The tipping point for me was the party’s stand on torture, i.e. the unwillingness of Bush, and of most congressional Republicans, to outlaw cruel interrogation techniques against helpless captives. In the local newspaper, I explained why I was ending my association with the GOP:
Twelve days before Christmas, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to hold CIA interrogators to the more humane standards laid down in the U.S. Army Field Manual. The bill passed 222-199. It would ban water-boarding and other harsh interrogation methods. In other words, it would outlaw torture.
Alas, only five Republican congressmen voted to criminalize such torture. The rest backed the Bush/Cheney Administration in the notion that cruelty toward helpless captives is sometimes a justifiable way to defend the nation.
As a former Republican state committeeman (1992-1998) I find myself in a quandary. It is not without satisfaction that I look back on my activism in the GOP, before Bush/Cheney and the neoconservatives led the party astray. But notwithstanding former honors, I cannot continue on with a political party that has come to countenance torture.
Nor can I go back to the Democratic Party. Decades ago, the Democrats left me behind by advancing the culture of death. Moreover, I view third parties as politically futile.
It seems, then, that by process of elimination, I am a man without a party. For the time being count me among some 30 percent (up to 40% by 2011) of Americans calling ourselves independent. [Kitsap Sun, 12/18/07, p. A12]