For the past 30 years, I have lived the life of a self-described right wing capitalist pig. For the past 16 years, though, I have been living in Mesa County, Colorado – in the center of the Rocky Mountains’ Tea Party stronghold where, as it turns out, I don’t think that I’m conservative enough.
Thank you for giving me an ear. I must apologize, for I am a moderate Republican. I apologize for offending you by the words which I will soon utter, which are only meant to express my heartfelt beliefs. And I apologize for my very presence, talking to you about why you should open the doors to folks who, behind closed doors, you might refer to as a RINO (a Republican In Name Only).
When I attend Republican events in Mesa County, I rarely speak honestly about my views. Keep in mind that I believe in the vast majority of the Republican and Tea Party platforms. The Republican Party is my party too. Yet there are times when I honestly do not feel that I would be welcome if I really spoke my mind. And while I truly honor and appreciate 99% of what the Tea Party believes in, I do not always choose to stand on principal in the same way that they do.
I have another even more damning confession. In the past, I have not always voted Republican. I have been an admirer of John Andrews for 30 years. During elections, I almost always ask myself, “how would John vote?” And while I usually vote as John would like, at other times the moderate in me comes out, and I vote wrong. I always regret it, but it happens.
I do not vote the party. I believe in picking the best man or woman for the job and sometimes, certainly not often, but sometimes the worthy opposition finds candidates who I believe would do a good job representing a different point of view or group of voters. For these votes, I ask for both your understanding and for your forgiveness.
But please understand that despite my lack of principles, and my disloyalty, and my occasional poor judgment, I am trying my best to handle wisely the responsibility that our forefathers gave me to pick leaders well. After all, George Washington was not a Republican. Alexander Hamilton was not a Democrat. Today’s parties share much with their predecessors but ultimately we are asked to choose among individuals, rather than political parties, and I take that responsibility seriously.
I am not criticizing devoted party workers who always vote the party line. I am only asking that you try to understand the source of my occasional voting errors because, as we all know, elections have consequences. In the view of this moderate Republican, the opposition does not always come from an unholy point of view, full of deceit and evil intent. Mary Matlin, speaking recently alongside her husband whom Barbara Bush refers to as “he who must not be named,” recalls a time not long ago when everything wasn’t considered in term of “left versus right,” but rather people were classified as either “good” or “jerks.”
Indeed, I maintain that not all progressive ideas are awful. While an end to slavery was the original Republican party plank, it is the other party which is best known as the party of civil rights in the latter part of the 20th century. But equal rights for all is clearly a Tea Party ideal today, so it’s not a bad thing. Back when children were working in unsafe factories ten hours per day, it was progressives who agitated for new labor laws to protect them. That is not an area where we would be comfortable turning back the clock, is it? And it was activists, not conservatives, who eventually won the suffrage battle. Again, this is not an area where conservatives want to reverse ground. Right? We need good ideas, great ideas, to solve today’s problems and this moderate Republican cares not who brings the idea to the table, so long as it’s a good, effective solution that preserves our ideals of freedom and liberty.
So I beg you to please stop describing your opponents as evil socialists bent on destroying America. The democrats are not stupid any more than this Summit is full of greedy bigots. You are offended by the labels they give you. Surely it would not surprise you that others are offended if you attach equally wretched labels to them? I know that the people at this Summit value civil discourse. So I encourage you to moderate your tone, moderate your words, moderate your view of the opposition, even while you stand firm on the principals for which you are known.
In today’s media driven society, shrill words get headlines. But politics too often simplifies what are in fact difficult choices. When the other side votes for complex legislation, we oversimplify to the point of deceit to claim that they are for death panels. As we try to make difficult budget choices in order to get our fiscal house in order, they say we take joy in depriving the poor. We need to stop talking like children and start acting like leaders for I have no doubt that within a few years these complex problems will be laid at our feet, and it will be our duty to make the difficult decisions that fixing them entails.
These are complex issues, not layups. We often differ on fundamental unresolved differences of scientific opinion but we couch the debate in the language of a school yard shouting match. Is global warming real? That’s a scientific debate. You’d never know it when the Tea Party claims that the environmental movement is only bending science to punish the fossil fuel industry while the Democrats claim that conservatives care only about giving corporations tax breaks. If these were easy questions, the scientists could give us a quick answer.
Should science classrooms teach macroevolution as fact or a theory? That is an unanswered scientific question. On abortion – when does life begin? That is a scientific debate, although an increasingly lopsided set of facts is making that easier to answer, regardless of what the Bible says. Do business owners have the right to discriminate against gays? Well, is being gay a choice or is it determined by birth? You may have an opinion about that, but it is the scientific question on which that debate may hinge. These aren’t easy questions for science, but we try to make them easy political questions…litmus test questions. They are not a slam dunk and we lose credibility to pretend that they are.
Too often our rhetoric makes it sound oh so easy. Ah, yes, your opponent is a race-baiting class-warfare agitator, an unpatriotic and ignorant elitist, and therefore we voters should elect you or accept your position. However, if voters aren’t convinced that your opponent is quite as evil as you say, then your argument just lost its mo jo. Instead, give me a vision of the solutions you have for the serious problems that face our country. I know you have answers, you see, because I am a Republican too.
Metaphorically speaking, I am the most powerful person in this nation. I represent the swing voter. Moderate Republicans. Independents. Blue Dog Democrats. We determine elections. When you insult us, or shut us out, we may react emotionally and give our votes to the wrong candidate. If we decide you are mean toward gays or don’t care enough about women or care more about big business than about extending a helping hand to those who need help, we may vote the wrong way. In those years, you lost the election. I am a moderate Republican. That was partly my doing. I matter.
The hard core Democrats aren’t going to vote for you. You know as well as I do that’s what poor Mitt Romney meant when he referred to “the 47%.” You won’t be able to convince 47% of the voters that your goals are righteous, that your heart is in the right place, or – frankly – that you are even human. But the 10 percent in the middle, well, that’s who I am.
To be honest, if I were to run in a primary for office, I don’t have a problem losing to your Tea Party candidate. He probably represents my views as well as anyone. I don’t have a problem with the House and Senate having Tea Party majorities, in fact. I hope it happens in time to save this Republic which is careening out of control toward fiscal self-destruction.
However, it is not clear that the voting public, at large, agrees with all of your conservative principals. They certainly don’t understand them. So if you beat me in the primary but lose to a Democrat in the November election, please don’t spend the next four years complaining to me about the direction the country is going in. It might be that you didn’t support the most electable candidate. And although I am not trying to act like a moderate in order to get elected, I actually disagree with you on a few specific items – the point is that gaining power involves forming coalitions. That’s how the framers intended it to be. Government is not about putting your monolith in power. It’s about finding an acceptable middle ground with which a diverse electorate can agree.
Please don’t talk about punishing moderate candidates who feel an obligation to try to work with members of the Party that voters put in charge of the Senate and the White House. Perhaps someday soon we can change the make-up of those institutions but there are difficult decisions to be made, now, and not everyone is going to agree with a strategy of intransigence, even if they do share your preference for fiscal responsibility and personal liberty. We are on the same side, even if we sometimes disagree about tactics and strategy.
Let me mention one issue in particular. I do happen to believe that our founders intended for some separation between Church and State, yet I am a true, fundamentalist bible-believing Christian. I believe that citizens have a right to choose to believe in God, but that government ought to give its citizens the same choice that Jesus has given us. Even after Jesus sacrificed His life to save us He still gives each of us the choice to follow Him or not. Separation is key. Religious liberty is non-negotiable. Church and State must be free to make their own decisions because the Government and the Church have never made good bedfellows.
Some of our most important differences stem from this different view about what was intended by Thomas Jefferson’s letter. It’s perhaps the most fascinating question of our Republic, but I hope that being on different sides of that division doesn’t make us incompatible when it comes time to assemble a coalition to find ways to reduce poverty by promoting job growth in America. Ignoring our differences does not belittle them. It is simply part of the governing process.
I am a moderate Republican. Please do not forget me when you design your platform, address a crowd, or speak to the party faithful in your holy of holies…at the gun club. Please make me feel welcome, even if we don’t agree on the entire agenda. Who knows, maybe you’ll convince me over time. That’s how I became a Christian in life. First, someone had to invite me to church. They did not require me to be sin-free in order to attend. In fact, they still don’t require that. They did not require me to repudiate my impure thoughts before sharing the Truth of the Gospel with me. In spite of our differences, they stood with me, they encouraged me, and they taught me things that I did not know before. If you want to win moderates to your cause, perhaps it makes sense to do what Jesus did.
To all members of the true-blue right: I admire your spirit. I love your passion. I want to know more about the solutions that we Republicans can bring to the issues facing the people of this great nation. I am a moderate Republican. We may not agree on every platform issue or every political strategy. But, I matter. I pray you have the wisdom and tenacity to share a tent, even with me, because elections have consequences and we desperately need new leadership that is willing and able to pass legislation that will preserve the liberty and bless the future of this nation, under God, for the sake of the generations to come.