David Rodeback's Blog

Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Friday, October 24, 2008
Shouldn't I Be a Democrat?

My biography says so. My education says so. My long residency in the Northeast says so. My dissatisfaction with state and national Republicans says so. But I'm not. Here's what the Utah Democrats would have to do to entice me.

Biography Apparently Is Not Determinism

I was born and lived for more than a decade in Boulder, Colorado, which was trying ever so hard then, as it is now, to be Berkeley, California. Boulder is the lovely city at the base of the Rocky Mountains, where they felt guilty for having no homeless people and considered the possibility of importing some. They consider themselves progressive, and they have a case. There were political and educational movements afoot when I was there in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which didn't hit the national scene for two or three decades. On a more personal note, in first grade I knew the names of (but did not use) at least half a dozen illegal drugs that my classmates in Idaho (after my family moved there) hadn't heard of even when they got to high school.

There's more. As an adult I lived for about 11 years in the Northeast. I loved it and would happily return.

I have an Ivy League education and a degree or two in political science. When I studied the Russian language in Moscow, back in the USSR, I was socially friendly with members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I was even politically correct, because it was the Gorbachev years, and I was drinking mineral water instead of vodka, as Gorby recommended (but not because he recommended it).

In my church work, which occupies 20 to 30 hours per week, I spend a lot of time working with abuse victims and trying to help people lift themselves out of poverty. In my politics, I am displeased with the Utah and national Republican Party in more ways than you want me to list right now. I was disgusted with Republicans in Washington recently when they were a majority on Capitol Hill, and I am unhappy with their impotence in the minority during the last two years. I am quick to give the current Republican president credit for getting some very important things right (e.g. the war, more or less), but in the next breath I will tell you that I think in some ways his administration has been disastrous.

I am generally suspicious of one-party government. I have studied comparative government, but I can't name a single situation in the present or the past where one-party government was a good thing. Not even Utah. It too often leads to shortages in good ideas, ethical behavior, and fiscal restraint.

This brings me to my question: In view of all this, shouldn't I be a Democrat? A conservative Democrat, at least, if not a full-blown, tax-everything-that-moves-and-why-can't-we-all-just-be-France liberal?

But I'm Not

A friend said, when I asked him my question, "No, because you also have a brain." But I know quite a few Democrats who are very intelligent and a fair share of Republicans who are not, so that can't be the whole story, can it?

In fact, I have been a registered Republican since I was old enough to register. Ronald Reagan had a lot to do with that, starting years before he was elected President. But he is long gone. Should I not now be a prime target for recruitment by the Utah Democratic Party -- to vote for their candidates, at least, and probably also to change my party affiliation?

I don't expect to find myself changing parties, but it could happen, and I'm about to tell you how. The Utah Democratic Party would have to do three things convincingly and well. No two of the three would be enough; I would need all three.

I don't imagine you care very much about one blogger's party affiliation. But the list of things which would attract me is very much like the list of things that would make the Democratic Party more competitive in Utah and usefully unsettle our too-comfortable one-party apparat.

1. Democratic candidates would have to stop hiding their party affiliation.

You've probably seen the vote-the-person-not-the-party ad campaign that Utah Democrats are running. "A good candidate is a terrible thing to waste," and all that. It's not overtly Democratic; there's no red, white, and blue donkey logo on the billboards or anything like that. But it's no mystery who would want to press that particular argument in, say, Utah County.

There's a long-standing Utah tradition of Democratic candidates hiding their party affiliation. For example, the Democratic candidate for the Utah House of Representatives in my 27th District, Gwyn Franson, doesn't even mention her party affiliation at her campaign web site. At least I didn't find it Saturday, and I think I checked all the pages. I understand this tendency; in most areas of Utah a Democrat doesn't stand a chance against a Republican who is not known to be a convicted felon or a certifiable lunatic. But isn't hiding one's party affiliation somehow a little less than "open and honest"?

. . . A Little Tangent . . .

I quoted the phrase "open and honest" because I heard it in a radio ad yesterday. The ad talked about corruption, bribery, and other misconduct among Republicans in the Utah Legislature. (I certainly don't consider Republicans incapable of misconduct, but I believe we are to infer from the ad that Utah Democrats would never do anything corrupt or unethical.) It told us we should vote Democratic this year, and it promised -- if I remember the wording correctly -- "a new era of open and honest government" if we do.

I'm all for open and honest government, but I experienced a sense of deja vu at this point in the ad, and it wasn't a happy feeling. I remembered a newly-minted Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, promising very much the same thing when she took office a couple of years ago, after the majority in the US Senate shifted in the Democrats' favor. Her exact words were, "We pledge to make this the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history." By now, only the most blindly partisan observer doesn't see that what we got was more of the same, only worse. It is the most bitterly politicized, aggressively useless Congress I can remember; small wonder it's approval rating these days runs about half of President Bush's dismal number.

(Forgive me, but here I pause for a wishful tangent within my tangent. If we really do elect a Democratic majority in the Utah Legislature this time, does "open and honest" mean that we can debate vouchers on their merits next year, instead of having to slog through the truckload of lies and distortions the UEA and its mostly-Democratic minions disgorged last year? I guess I shouldn't hold my breath.)

. . . End of Tangent . . .

Back to the business of hiding party affiliation. Hiding one's past may be working for Barack Obama right now. In two weeks we'll know if it was good for the candidate. In two or three years, if he wins, we'll probably see clearly whether it was good for the country. I have my doubts.

Locally, a former professor of mine, Don Jarvis, is running in Utah House District 63, in Provo. He doesn't put the word Democrat in flashing bold letters at his campaign web site, but he does link to the Utah Democratic Party on every page, and he takes the can-good-Mormons-be-Democrats-and-vice-versa issue head on.

I think we need plenty of good people in both parties. I hope he wins.

Admittedly, being known as a Democrat might be less nearly the kiss of death in east Provo than in some other parts of Utah, but I still have to applaud Jarvis's candor. I would think more of other Democratic candidates if they were more like him and less like Barack Obama, in terms of hiding who they are.

2. The Utah Democratic Party platform would have to move to the right, to reflect the values of a majority of Utahans instead of the values embodied in the national party's platform.

What if the Utah Democratic Party openly defied the prevailing culture of the national party? I'm just going to draw a few issues out of a hat here, in no particular order . . .

What if they celebrated their pro-life members instead of barely tolerating and mostly silencing them? What if they came out and admitted that decreasing tax rates increases revenues, as it did in the Reagan and Kennedy administrations (and perhaps also the second Bush adminstration)? What if they openly backed away from affirmative action and racial quotas generally and went back to the Martin Luther King, Jr., doctrine of judging a person by his or her character, not skin color? What if they declared the national party to be wrong on Iraq and Afghanistan and advocated measures that would genuinely protect us from our many enemies in the world, and stopped trying to be France? What if they worked hard to stop being puppets of the unions, including the teachers' unions? What if they openly opposed the appointment of judges who think they are legislators?

If they did these things, they could take some of the ground out from under Republicans. This would either inspire the Republicans to defend their ground or push the Utah GOP into the irrelevance they would otherwise deserve.

I'm not saying that the Utah Democrats should openly advocate Mormon values, whatever those are. Even a reasonable deference to Western values would be a significant leap.

Here again, as it happens, Don Jarvis is a good example. If you isolated the positions from the candidate, so I didn't know where they came from, I could have told you that he isn't one of those knee-jerk, right-wing, nutty Republicans who give their copartisans a bad name. But I would not have been able to tell you that he is a thoughtful, fairly conservative Democrat instead of a thinking Republican.

That said, talk alone is not enough to lure me.

3. Democratic leaders and officials from Utah would have to address openly the philosophical disconnect between themselves and the national party -- which there certainly would be if my second item happened. They would have to talk openly and relentlessly, both in Utah and in Washington, about moving the national party's values toward Utah's (and some other states'), not the reverse. They would have to work tirelessly to achieve this. And they would have to cross the aisle sometimes when their votes mattered, not just when they didn't.

For example, what if Jim Matheson publicly said, "Nancy Pelosi is not a suitable leader for a Utah Democrat. I'm casting my vote for Speaker for the member of Congress whom I believe best represents Western Democrats and best safeguards the future of the party" -- and then acted accordingly, and lobbied his fellow Democrats to join him. He'd probably fail, but I'd feel better represented by my Congressman if he tried.

Or what if he said openly, "I'm a Democrat, and I'm proud to be a Democrat, but where my party's Congressional leadership is right now is not where the party should be. I'm voting against this pork-greased, unbalanced budget, and I'm also trying to amend it, so it doesn't cut off support for our troops"?

I realize that to a Democrat I might seem to be saying, "I'll be a Democrat if the Democrats will stop being Democrats." But I think more in these terms: If Utah Democrats are not content to be a permanent minority, they'll have to come to us, not wait for us to come to them.

There's Loyalty, and Then There's Loyalty

Some of my Republican friends may accuse me of being disloyal to my party, but could it be closer to the truth that my party is somewhat disloyal to me? I have an acquaintance who likes to point out that every organization is perfectly tuned to produce the results it is producing. The Utah Republican Party must therefore be perfectly tuned to produce high taxes, congressional candidates who cannot win in the Second District, and the impression that ethics are optional at the top of State Street.

Why would I be loyal to my party for its own sake? I'm loyal to the principles of freedom and good, limited, honest, constitutional government, which is freedom's essential companion. Insofar as my party embodies these ideals, I'll be loyal to it. When and where it doesn't, I won't.

I know letter grades are discriminatory -- at least I hear that from the Left -- but here are some. I give the national Republican Party a B-minus in Freedom and a D-plus in Good Government. I give the Utah Republican Party slightly higher grades, a B-plus in Freedom and a B-minus in Good Government. Both sets of grades are quite beatable, if Utah Democrats could raise their own grades (a solid C and a D, respectively) and effectively distance themselves from the national party's grades (D-minus and F, I think).

The change I have described could happen, but something tells me I'm going to be a Republican for a while longer. If that is the case, I would like someday to be happy with my state and national parties again. They have a lot of work to do before I get there, but I'm not sure it's their highest priority.

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