My name is Dan, and I’m a Republican. Though it’s been almost eight years since I voted GOP, the shame and regret haunt me daily. Just the sight of ‘W’ mugging for the cameras on the evening news is enough to fill me with despair.
It all started innocently enough. I tried my first shot of conservative philosophy in the 1980 presidential race. The party offered simple solutions to complex problems — both domestic and international. If we’d only avoid the evils of big government and expensive social programs at home, and if we would wield our military might whenever challenged abroad, every problem could be solved. The ideas were harsh, and burned going down, but they numbed the senses in a pleasant way.
In 1980, the Republicans ran a big old wrinkled, good-natured cowboy. The country was stinging from the Iran hostage crisis (the most recent act in a play that opened in the fifties when Eisenhower’s CIA launched an Iranian coup and installed a Shah to do our bidding). The Carter administration fumbled the situation badly, adding embarrassment to the anger. We’d just had our noses rubbed in it in Southeast Asia a few years earlier, and here we were again, feeling powerless and frustrated. Everybody was ready for some good old-fashioned ass-kicking.
I was an engineering student in 1980. It’s common knowledge that engineers are insufferable bores, but not so well known that they also tend to be borderline fascists. As a group, my professors and peers fit somewhere on the political spectrum between Mussolini and Rush Limbaugh. In addition, my family was southern and hard-core conservative. I was eleven years old before I learned that ‘damnlibrul’ wasn’t a single word. So you see, I was largely a product of my environment. It probably sounds like I am making excuses, but I just want to put things in the proper context.
So I voted right in that election. I suppose I knew that jolly Ron was just a front-stage act, and that real party power brokers backstage were calling all the shots, but I was under the influence and feeling no pain. And things seemed to work out all right. The hostages came home immediately (a turnabout so miraculous as to be vaguely unsettling). If you could whistle past things like the Iran-Contra scandal and tax cuts that quadruped the national debt, if you could look down and shuffle when the talk turned to Grenada and social security cuts, then everything appeared to be staying between the ditches. That is, of course, unless you happened to be an air traffic controller.
I got a job out of school making more than I ever had, mortgage interest rates dropped to half within five years, and we bought our first house for the new family. Favors and pennies trickled down even to our little nest in the grass.
In ’84 and ’88, I went Republican again. Looking back on it now, I can see that I was already deep in the clutches, but unable to recognize my problem. The big arms build up under Reagan looked to be working. The Soviet system was faltering and the end of the cold war was at hand. On the other hand, de-regulation and free-market philosophy contributed to a savings and loan crisis that left a lot of us with mortgages worth significantly more than our homes.
It’s important to remember that in the eighties the Christian right had not yet completely hijacked the Republican Party. In fairness, that’s probably not the most accurate way to describe this unholy alliance. You could just as well say that cynical Republican Party leaders wooed the Bible-thumpers, winning their support with inane and backward platforms on issues like gays in the military, gay marriages, and stem cell research. These of course were meaningless diversions to the party, with no real consequence, but very good for garnering the bloc vote. The old Republicans and the new — an evil marriage of unregulated greed and faith-based intolerance.
By ’92, we were cleaning up from the first War of desert lies. I actually broke from the party and voted for the only candidate honest enough to call it for what it was — a war for cheap foreign oil. He was an independent and, as it turns out, had little to offer other than this single flash of honesty, some truly impressive ears, and a voice so annoying as to make empty cans fly at the television set.
I see now that there were signs of the madness all along the way, but I wasn’t seeing them. For instance, in the ’80s Reagan decided it would make sense to fill up our prisons with non-violent pot smokers and convert them to career criminals. Of course, we’d need to release murderers and rapists early to make more room for them.
The party’s position on gays is another flagrant example of conservative absurdity. The self-righteous right claims to accept the concept of gay unions, but not gay marriage, and can accept gays in the military, as long as no one says so. (If you acknowledge that a couple of adults have the right to choose their mates, why trip up over the words? It’s semantics, you boneheads!) For my part, I dismissed these Republican policies as oddities. It is easy if you are an addict. In the grips of a dependency, you pick and choose what to see, and what to ignore.
Over the last twenty years or so, the Republican Party garnered more fringe support from gun enthusiasts. (I personally refer to them as ‘frothing- mouthed NRA lunatics.’) Again, the party leaders don’t really give a damn about the issue, but it’s a good way to incite passion, and it doesn’t get in the way of American Imperialism, global domination, or the unrestrained pursuit of profit — the true party platform.
The election of ‘W’ was too much to ignore. Corruption right out in the open. And then came the second war of lies, a war conceived and planned by the Project for the New American Century, a neo-conservative think tank.* This group, funded by the AEI (American Enterprise Institute, a.k.a. American Enterprise for Imperialism), boasts a roster that included a number of notorious conservative criminals (some convicted, some not) including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bolton, and Scooter Libby. Back in the nineties behind closed doors, well before the election of the next Bush, they schemed and plotted to establish a military presence in IRAQ and effect a regime change. They got their boy in office in 2000, and then Katy bar the door.
To be fair the party isn’t all bad. I credit them with saving AM radio. If it were not for those right-wing conservative talk shows, the format would probably have gone the way of the dinosaur. The following that these programs get is truly astonishing. Who would think that there are that many citizens, sitting around the compound in their cammies, willing to put down the AK-47 and HAM radio long enough to dial in?
Deacons and CEOs, survivalists and home-schoolers — the Republicans are, in an odd way, a very diverse group. A group that shares a unifying principal, the common conviction that all of the rest of us should think, act, and believe just as they do.
Though I’ve disavowed the party, I sometimes still waiver. Unambiguous answers, absolute morals, and clear-cut villains and heroes have an undeniable appeal. Ideas like de-regulation and reliance on market pressures almost make sense if you don’t scrutinize them closely. Yes, slipping would be easy. I rely on the support of friends to keep me straight. Clowns like GWB don’t hurt either.
* That phrase “neo-conservative think tank” is an oxymoron, don’t you think, in more ways than one? There is certainly nothing new about greed and corruption, and when it comes to thinking, most conservatives don’t care to go in past their ankles, much less dive in a tank.
Jim McInvale is an engineer by necessity.