I have been spending a surprising amount of time watching the Democratic National Convention over the last couple of days, and during Bill Clinton's speech last night, I thought about how my identification with the Democratic Party has been a rather recent development.
As a child, I considered myself a Republican because my parents were Republicans, and so I assumed I was one too. At the age of sixteen I had a political awakening, where I realized that most of the things I believed in were in fact not what the Republican party believed in. In fact, I learned that my views were actually to the left of the Democrats! Nevertheless, I put a lot of hope into Bill Clinton back in 1992, and felt betrayed by a president responsible for signing the Defense of Marriage Act, voting to deregulate banks, "reform" welfare, and generally supporting a less rapacious version of Reagan's neo-liberal economic policy. By the 1996 election, I considered both major parties to be corrupt institutions only looking out for their own interests, and much less different from each other than their partisans claimed.
Consequently, I voted for third party presidential candidates in 1996 and 2000, feeling a moral obligation to cast a vote for the candidate who best represented my views. (In the first case I lived in Nebraska, in the second Illinois, neither one a swing state.) While I typically voted for Democrats, I would never have considered myself one, and registered as an independent.
Things changed after the 2000 election. During that campaign, I scoffed at Al Gore's timidity and unwillingness to take strong liberal stances on the issues, although I developed a strong dislike of George W. Bush, who appeared to me to be, in technical terms, a goddamned moron born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Once it became obvious how extreme the Republicans had become during the Bush administration, I realized that maintaining my moral purity by sitting on the sidelines and refusing to throw in my lot with the Democrats emboldened conservative radicals to run riot.
Essentially, I chose to be a Democrat out of fear of the alternative, not the strongest reason in the world, but one that has stuck. The GOP has gone from being a center-right, broad-based party to the front organization for an extremist, ideologically-driven political movement seeking to impose Christianism, Dickensian laissez-faire capitalism, and an essentially racist, homophobic, and misogynistic definition of "America." As much as I think the Democrats are hapless, weak-willed, compromised by their own corporate corruption, and lacking in vision, the alternative is unthinkable.
I've chortled a few times watching speakers at the DNC making promises they can't keep an wrapping themselves in the flag. However, I have also nodded, smiled, and shouted a few "hell yeah!"s when folks like Lilly Ledbetter, Deval Patrick, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker have taken the podium. By contrast, what little I could stomach of the RNC struck me as ridiculous, narrow-minded, and delusional. Clint Eastwood's performance art piece pretty much summed it up: the Republicans live in an imaginary world of their own making, ruled by a bogeyman president who bears little resemblance to the real person. I can only hope that more people like myself in the "reality based community" who are still undecided realize that the Republican Party is not a moderate alternative to an incumbent that are disappointed in.