Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Republican Who Votes Democrat?

My wife Sarah will tell you that I am pretty well politically versed. I keep up with the goings on of national, state, and local politics. I vote. I have opinions. But, against the usual trend of people becoming more conservative as they get older, I’ve gone in a different direction.

Friends of mine from high school, college, and even grad school knew me as “Alex the Republican”. It’s been a long time since I’ve identified myself as that. But nor do I consider myself a bleeding heart liberal. (That’s still a label that makes my skin crawl.) Nevertheless, I find myself relating to the Republican party less and less these days. Certainly that’s due in no small part to the party’s decisive shift to the extreme right. But I’ve also made a shift. Not necessarily left or right though.

Sometime last year, Sarah and I found ourselves on a train coming home from Manhattan. There were two young women on the train speaking much louder than was necessary considering they were sitting next to each other. But it was the content of their conversation that got to us. To sum it up, they were gloating over how easily the were able abuse the system and avoid punishment for it. As we exited the train and came up the station stairs, my left-leaning, Democrat registered wife turned to me and said wryly, “I think I’m a Republican now.”

My early political leanings were largely influenced by my father and grandparents. I had developed a strong “bootstraps” mentality through high school and college. Also, how could lower taxes ever be a bad thing? But then I moved to New York City. And while some might simply write me off as having been immersed in a sea of liberalism, unable to fight off its seductive powers, it was much less dramatic than that.

Living so close to so many different kinds of people has a truly profound impact on you. You have to learn how to get along, at least on some level. And you have to acknowledge that you’re not in a bubble. When you live on a quarter acre lot and spend your entire commute isolated in a car, it’s easier to (probably subconsciously) THINK you’re in a bubble. But when you’re stacked on top of each other, riding a crowded train with 1000 of your closest friends to work, you can’t deny that your actions affect other people. And their actions affect you. And that goes for anywhere, not just densely packed New York. It’s just easier to see here.

It’s also hard to ignore how many different kinds of people there are in the world. You’re face to face, literally, with people from just about every corner of the globe, every level of income, every social class, every philosophy, every religion (yes, even conservative Christians, even in NYC). It’s much harder to isolate yourself among your own kind here -- although we do try pretty hard. So, in all of this you have to figure out how to get along with everyone else. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but we make it work for the most part. And I think we’re better people for it.

So it’s this aversion to the “bubble mentality” that has played the largest role in my evolving politics. I have a particularly negative response to hard core libertarianism. The idea that everyone should keep all of their money and do exactly what they want with it without restriction would certainly work if you did in fact live in a bubble. But most of us live in communities. Some of us in very large cities with millions of people. There are resources we have to share. Period. Proximity amplifies your impact on others and others’ impact on you. So for me, it makes sense for things that benefit the community to be funded with taxes.

Moreover, there are things that we as a society generally agree on. We should provide police and fire protection. We should provide public education. We should have a network of transportation. We should have parks and public spaces. While you’ll always be able to dig and find a few folks who disagree on providing these things through tax dollars, on a baseline level the vast majority of us -- especially in cities -- support it. The degree of how to implement these things is often debated. But I’ve found myself on the side that supports more rather than less because, as noted, we don’t live in a bubble. Happier people make a happier city. So yes, build that park that I’ll never use. Run a train to a neighborhood I’ll never live in. When others benefit, so do I because we’re in proximity to each other.

Now before you think I’m going down the “slippery slope of socialism”, I still believe very much in the free market. So the concept of community must be balanced appropriately with one’s ability to make money and spend money as one pleases. People need to be allowed to innovate. When people can innovate and profit from it, new and useful things come to the market. This moves us all forward, so it should be encouraged.

So let’s see where I stand. I’m a registered republican that usually votes democrat. I believe in fiscal responsibility and spending within our means but support urban planning, public transit and a health care system that is accessible to everyone. I think everyone who makes their home in this country should speak or learn to speak English but would love to see comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes this as a country of immigrants. I have mixed feelings on gay marriage but unequivocally believe in full partnership rights however you define it. I think we should fix our budget woes through budget cuts AND tax revenue. I believe that public assistance is abused regularly and that my tax dollars are too often wasted on it... but I also believe that there are people who are in dire need of help and they shouldn’t be punished because of some bitches on a train bragging about working the system.

I think the biggest thing that has changed within me is that I’ve truly come to understand that one is not all. One person does not represent an entire class, race or group. And one class, race or group does not get to decide what’s right for all. We have to compromise. We have to learn to live together. And since no political party embodies this specific belief system my only choice of what to call myself really is independent. Maybe it’s cliche, but I consider that to be moving neither left nor right, but forward.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

If you don't have anything to say, don't say anything at all.

Back in the days when MySpace (or "My________" as it's now known) I would blog from time to time. After the Great Exile of 2007 to Facebook, I stopped. Mostly out of laziness since Facebook doesn't offer any kind of blog platform. So here I am, nearly four years later, realizing I have lots of thoughts to share. Status updates and Tweets fulfill some of my need to vomit my inner monolog out to the world, but only to a limited extent. I have much more to give than 140 characters will allow. Then again, does anyone really need to hear my inner monolog?

I became accustomed to sharing my world view with the masses back in college when I had a show on our campus radio station. Each Tuesday night if there was a particular issue that was grinding my gears, I would open up the mic and address said issue (hopefully) with a dash of insight and humor. In the several years following college, I found myself gagged and bound with no outlet. But then came social media. Blogs led the way, but were soon supplanted by brevity encouraging status updates and Tweets. I went with the crowd.

The interesting thing is, this forced brevity served me well. Not only did it force me to cut out the fat, but it also taught me a valuable lesson. In a play on the old adage, my mantra has become: If you don't have anything to say, don't say anything at all. That is, if you're going to say something, make sure it's relevant or interesting or insightful or pithy or SOMETHING. Otherwise, don't bother.

Certainly, no one is actively seeking out my opinions or musings on life. If you're reading this, it's likely because you know me or because someone who knows me linked this blog. So the least I can do is make what I have to say, well, relevant or interesting or insightful or pithy or SOMETHING. It should be more than just my inner monolog vomited out over the airwaves as 21-year-old Alex likely did far too often. I will also refrain from adorning this blog with rotating clip art. It's the least I can do.