I am running for office this year as a Democrat. Many voters in this district, I’m aware, would regard that as reason enough to vote against me. But I hope those people will first listen to my reasons for taking on the label of “Democrat” after having spent much of my career choosing to avoid “party politics” and partisan labels.
Since right out of college, in 1974, I’ve wanted for all my efforts to be geared toward achieving things I believed in. Partisan politics seemed ill-suited for that purpose because – inevitably – each of the two major parties would be coalitions embracing both worthy and unworthy causes.
Even if the Democratic Party more often championed causes I cared about, not only had I grown up in a Republican family, but also the issues didn’t present themselves in purely partisan terms.
(With respect to taking care of the natural world around us, for example, I noted that 1) the Endangered Species Act passed Congress almost unanimously in 1973, 2) it was a Republican president who created the Environmental Protection Agency; and 3) when Reagan was president in the 1980s, the Republicans talked about climate change as a reality that we at least needed to take seriously.)
So I chose to focus not on “party” but directly on the issues, and I tried to persuade both parties to do the right thing:
• working for several years for an organization that wanted to make sure that average Americans, in their role as consumers, got a fair shake from the big interests that dominate our economy;
• participating in the Family Farm Coalition, working to help save the family farm – a traditional institution that was good for the vibrancy of rural America and good for the land;
• then, when there seemed an increasing possibility that the two superpowers might be heading toward the catastrophic nuclear war we’d all dreaded, I worked in the peace movement to encourage the defusing of the Cold War;
• most recently, understanding how vital it is for our human future that we deal responsibly with how we are destabilizing the earth’s climate, I became – and remain – a member of the board of one of the most effective organizations working to protect our children and grandchildren from those dangers about which a whole field of science is raising the alarm.
But now something has fundamentally changed in American politics.
Where both parties used to be mixtures of the good and the evil, one of our parties has gone virtually wholly dark. With a breathtaking consistency, on issue after issue, the Republican Party takes the side that makes our world a worse place, increasing conflict and suffering and injustice. By, for example:
• making their priority a tax cut that transfers huge sums to the very richest, at a time when income inequality in America is the widest it has been in a century;
• working to strip tens of millions of Americans of health care coverage;
• making it dogma to reject what 99% of the world’s climate scientists are urgently trying to tell us;
• putting more and more power into the hands of the corporate system, degrading our form of government that’s supposed to be not only of the people but also for and by us as well;
• supporting a president who – well beyond anything ever seen in American history – shows a contempt for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our traditional American political norms. (Not to mention his prodigious lying to the American people, his inflaming racial hostilities, his celebrating brutal dictators while insulting the leaders of our fellow democracies).
This transformation of the Republican Party into something that on issue after issue is degrading the human world has required me to channel my deep love for this nation, and for what’s good and right, in a new direction.
For virtually every issue I care about, I see that the real battle is to make sure that the Party that’s consistently serving what’s dark and destructive is driven from power.
The Democratic Party has its flaws. But, in our historically two-party nation, it is the only other force in the arena of power in America that can check this rogue Republican Party that has become so destructive. And so I am proud to run as a Democrat.
And I believe that – in our present perilous situation – every Republican who sees things clearly, and who cares about our American heritage, should be proud to vote Democratic as well.