Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

July 7, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I am a Republican as well as a daily reader of the Democratic Underground. My concern is that while I disagree with the Bush administration on Iraq, I am having a hard time getting a good reason from the left to switch parties. For me, I need to hear more that "Bush is bad," (for whatever reason.)

It seems like Democrats are more interested in preaching to the converted than giving people like myself a valid alternative with a solid plan - a plan of action and more than just being anti-Bush. I am disheartened and saddened by the policies and actions of the Bush administration, but I can't break myself from the assertion that Democrats are simply becoming a party of anger. Any advice, or suggestions?

Eugene, OR

Dear Chris,

There is a good deal more to the Democratic Party than "hate Bush." Check out, for instance, the Democratic agenda, or look at the Party's Platform for the last elections.

These will both give you some idea of what Democrats want to see from our government, what we expect of our elected officials, and what we as individual Party members are committed to helping America realize. Naturally you will hear a lot about the Party's opposition to Mr. Bush and his administration. That's part of being, well, the "opposition." In other words, it's our job to point out all the things we believe Mr. Bush and his Party are doing wrong, just as it was the GOP's job to point out all the things they believed Mr. Clinton and the Democrats were doing wrong, when the GOP was the opposition.

However, don't feel that you are obliged to switch parties, Chris, especially if you think that the Republican programs on the economy, on social legislation, on infrastructure, government, the environment, etc., represent your views better than the Democratic Party's. If your only point of disagreement with the GOP is their support of Mr. Bush's conduct in regards to the war in Iraq, then perhaps you can be a more constructive force for change by staying in the GOP and actively working to change that particular part of the Party's policies.

It's not possible to change a Party's policies alone, but many Republicans of my acquaintance are very uneasy with their Party's policy on Iraq, and I would not be at all surprised if you found other Republicans who agreed with you on that point. Together you can form a strong voice for change within your Party. It won't be easy (it never is!) but remember that every great idea, every powerful ideology, every widely held philosophy or political viewpoint started out as a ridiculous fringe notion.

When is it a good idea to switch Parties? That is a question everyone must answer for themselves. We Americans have become accustomed to being able to get exactly what we want in the consumer marketplace ("I'd like that model, except in blue, and with the extra flooblebink, please. And could you have my initials engraved on it here?") We expect the same kind of "customer service" from our political parties, which is not realistic. No Party is going to be able to exactly match all of our views and opinions on every subject, except maybe the Party we start. That would be satisfying (after all, you could be Party Chair AND Presidential Nominee!) but it's also ineffective.

Gigantic political parties like the Democrats and the Republicans have enormous power in our political system. But the need to achieve an electoral majority also forces them to represent the views of millions - and when was the last time you could get three people to totally agree on everything, much less millions of people living in very different places and situations? Some common ground is easy to reach: we all want murder, child molestation, violent assault, etc., to be illegal. We all want our toilets to flush when we push the handle, our lights to turn on when we click the switch, clean water to come out when we open the taps. We don't want lethal epidemic diseases to rage uncontrolled, children to starve to death in our streets, meat packers to sweep refuse in with the hot dog meat, or elected officials to sell their power to the highest bidder.

But legitimate differences can arise when we look at just how we want to promote or prevent the things we all agree about, when it is time to decide what we will do first, or how we will divide up resources to address the various problems. Our two political parties have to represent all of our different opinions on these matters, and to express the Party's intentions clearly and meaningfully, on as many issues as possible, to a majority of Americans. Within each Party there are issues where the consensus is broad and strong, and issues where the consensus is fragile at best, representing only a modest percentage of the Party's voters. Many of us hold views on things we regard as very important, that are not well-represented by either Party.

Third parties (and there are many of them) are an important part of the process, too. While they cannot exercise much power directly in our system (especially at the national level) a third party with a strong agenda, articulate speakers and representatives, and a large, committed membership can influence the major parties to re-examine and sometimes modify their policies in particular areas. They can sometimes swing an election by pulling voters who would otherwise support a majority part candidate in a close-fought contest. Some third-parties have succeeded in getting their candidates elected in local jurisdictions, and those representatives can occasionally provide a "swing" vote, which can be bartered for concessions on the issues that concern them.

However, these things don't happen often. Because America's government is based on the principle that our elected officials should represent a majority of the voters, the two-party system here is very strong. Parties that can attract a majority or near-majority of voters will always be most effective in promoting or preventing change in the policies of America's government. So most of us reconcile ourselves to the fact that sometimes "our" Party doesn't accurately represent our very own views on something - even something quite important.

But there are so many important things. For Auntie Pinko, the Democratic Party does a much better job of representing my views on the majority of things I care about than the Republican Party. Some third parties do better at representing my views on particular issues, but because the Democratic Party relies on Party members to participate, create platforms, endorse and nominate candidates, etc., I still feel it has a better chance to build a government that will function on behalf of a majority of Americans. I'll keep working to make it more like the Democratic Party of my ideals, even though I know it will never be exactly what I want. You might be better off doing the same with the Republican Party, Chris.

On the other hand, if you look over our agenda and decide you agree with a lot of it, welcome to the biggest, most chaotic, hopeful, determined, occasionally silly but more often sublime, force for change in America! And thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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