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On Leaving the Democratic Party
Across the nation Democrats eagerly await a promising midterm election. Instead of sharing their enthusiasm, I am walking away from the party.
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My dad has always been a Democrat. So had I. I know that the old man’s loyalties come from his family. His dad ran as a Dem for county surveyor…and won…a couple of times. And when Dad was a high-schooler, he and his maternal grandpa gleefully watched Johnson kick Goldwater’s ass in ’64.
For whatever reason, when Nixon and Reagan race-baited most of those New Deal loyalists back to the GOP in the years after The Civil Rights Act, my old man didn’t join them. It’s not that Dad was socially progressive. We were living in the winding back roads of rural, south-central Indiana, after all. I think it was mostly that he was smart enough to see through the bullshit. For him, the real issue on the table was his paycheck. And in that winter of 1980, when Reagan walloped Jimmy Carter with his Supply-Side/Laffer Curve fantasy, he turned to me and my brother and declared: “You watch. Before this is over this country will be one with the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’”
Some will argue that, three decades later, Dad was wrong. They’ll point to the stock market and the unemployment rate, and they’ll follow that up by blaming the Great Recession on Obama.
It doesn’t much matter that the stock market is loaded with land mines…ready to blow the whole thing to hell on little more than an errant tweet posted at 3:00 in the morning. It also doesn’t much matter that the bulk of the low unemployment numbers are made up of people who replaced well-paying, stable gigs framed with great benefits, vacation time, and a solid retirement plan for grunt-wage jobs with no guarantees and counselors readily available to help them fill out their food-stamp paperwork. And it also doesn’t really matter that the Great Recession began when the housing market crashed in the final months of Bush II’s reign.
Yeah, most Republicans don’t know what they’re talking about. And the few who sort of did (religiously at least)…the few who honestly did sort of intimidate me with their deep conviction and their moral certainty…they threw all of that away when they openly voted for Cousin Eddie-Flynt-Gekko*.
*A United States president who is part Gordon Gekko, part Cousin Eddie, and part Larry Flynt.
So here I live in a very red county tucked into the western half of a very red state. My part of Indiana is so red that my current choice for state representative falls between a former teacher (now a teacher’s union negotiator) versus the son of the guy who just left the State House for a gig in Washington. The Democrat, Kim, is a good person. She’s uber-compassionate and progressive. She’s also stubborn, not afraid of a fight, and extremely opinionated. Her opponent is a nice guy, too. His name is Beau. He was a student at Greencastle High School when I began working there. I’ve had beers with him, and we easily found common ground when we talked politics over them. As far as human personalities go, I am comfortable with either one of them going to Indianapolis on my behalf.
The thing is, though, Beau hasn’t campaigned much. And by “much” I mean he hasn’t campaigned at all. I think he has a Facebook page…? He might do some Twitter…? Thanks to his surname and that capital “R” on his ballot slot, Beau probably has 70% of the vote in the bag. Representative governments don’t do a whole of “representing” when the people running for office can hide behind their silhouetted Internet icons and wait out the election. But when nearly all of the electorate practically swims in your Kool-aid bowl…? Why would you do anything else?
Somewhere along the way, the Democrats stopped talking about blue-collar jobs. Sometime in the past they “ceded their economic platform and replaced it with a social agenda which has proven divisive.”
I should blame the Republican machine for this. I should blame Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and The Drudge Report and those little red ball caps with that stupid slogan on them.
But I don’t blame the Republicans. I blame the Democrats.
The problem isn’t that the Republicans are playing a simplistic, dishonest game. They’ve always done that. Anyone who remembers Willie Horton, or that invasion of the wrong country after a terrorist attack, really shouldn’t be all that shocked by Cousin Eddie-Flynt-Gekko’s insistence that we build a wall.
But the Democratic game plan…? It’s even dumber.
Somewhere along the way, the Democrats stopped talking about blue-collar jobs. Sometime in the past they “ceded their economic platform and replaced it with a social agenda which has proven divisive.” I’m quoting one of my former students, there—a bright 18-year-old who astutely nailed the Donkey-Squad’s singular, cataclysmic failure before 9:00 on a Wednesday morning.
A decade after watching a rogue group of loonies [dress up like Colonial rent-a-cops and] shove the GOP over the edge of the cliff...a rogue group of Democratic loonies want to destroy an actor’s career because he went on a bad date.
The social agenda itself is well-meaning and good-hearted. I’ll grant the Dems that. I’m all for equality. I’m very much in favor of eliminating privileges which allow members of (what a friend of mine calls) the “lucky sperm club” to start life on third base. But instead of creating a genuine New Deal—one for all people who really do want to go as far as their work ethic and their talents can take them—it seems to me that the Democratic party mostly wants to run everyone through liberal purity tests.
A decade after watching a rogue group of loonies shove the GOP over the edge of the cliff (dressing up like Colonial rent-a-cops and gleefully waving their flags as they hysterically argued for the right to go bankrupt every time a family member gets cancer), a rogue group of Democratic loonies now want to destroy an actor’s career because he went on a bad date. If there is a noble and unifying message behind all the #MeToo and white privilege hysteria, I’m not hearing it. If there’s a forward-thinking, economic agenda spearheading the push to impeach Cousin Eddie-Flynt-Gekko, I don’t see it. The fact that, when I raise these objections, I'm met with mixtures of condescension and outright hostility makes all of it that much worse.
When they were their best, both the Democratic and Republican parties stood for something—an empowering ideal that inspired us to be something better than we thought we could be. The GOP surrendered their nobility a long time ago. Now the Democrats are doing the same thing.
This fall, because my choices suck, I’ll vote for the party with zero vision in order to stop the party with the bat-shit crazy vision, and I’ll probably repeat that misery if only to get Cousin Eddie-Flynt-Gekko out of the driver’s seat of that rusty RV he’s piloting toward the edge of the Grand Canyon.
But after that…? The first party to come up with a real plan for the middle class…? The first organization to address the needs of all average people and not just the needs of those special members of their clubs…? That will be the group I “register” with. Maybe it’ll be the elephants. Maybe it’ll be the jackasses. Maybe it’ll be something new. Whatever it is, the sooner it gets here the better.
Wheeler proudly teaches AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He also contributes to the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for ISU's STATE Magazine. He started learning to play guitar last fall, but he remains terrible at it.