I was reflecting back on what it used to mean to be a Democrat. In a political family, raised as a Democrat, I understood this to mean that we worked for the interests of average people. I was taught that the party represented fairness, equality, and opportunity for everyone not because of the color of our skin, our sacred individual beliefs or anything else but just because we were human beings. We were all in this together and through those foundational values and ideas that cross all political boundaries and inflame the passion in people for justice, liberty and freedom. It was in politics that I was taught that we all faced off with government on an equal footing founded on our right to disagree on the path chosen but agreement on those things that made each of us truly Americans. It was not about fear, anger, and the manipulation of modern political party machines – it was about empowering people to their highest and best potentials as individuals and not just a cog in some kind of squishy collective.
My father explained to me carefully as a young person what it was to be a Democrat in the 1960s. He explained it simply, “Nick, Democrats work for the average person, people who work hard everyday to make their way in the world. Democrats support labor, the elderly, the poor and the disadvantaged.” I asked him about Republicans and he explained, ”Republicans represent big business and the rich.” It all seemed so simple then as a nine or ten year old child. No confusion, I was a Democrat.
Times change and so did the Democratic and Republican parties. Over the decades the Republicans tried to lay claim to God, conservative American values and progress through economic development. Democrats increasingly moved from the center further to the left as the party became dominated by those interested in social change and, increasingly, more liberal ideas. The two parties moved further apart. There used to be liberal Republicans and what were called conservative Democrats but that had changed to the polarization of the parties into liberal and conservative camps. It happened as much by default as it did by design. Both parties began to focus not on the bread and butter issues of the past built on new more esoteric foundations that addressed beliefs, personal characteristics, philosophy and religion as cornerstones. These individual core belief areas were exploited by the parties while special interests gained the cooperation of both parties on their issues while the masses fought over the things that would never be agreed upon. Our founding fathers knew this and endeavored to keep these areas out of government so that government would do only those things that we could not do for ourselves.
Special interests had always had a hand in the shape of party politics. I remember during the Nixon Administration it was in literal bags of cash, bribes and outright corruption. It sent many to jail, tossed the President and his disgraced Vice-president out of office, and set in motion a number of government reforms that have now been squashed by the same corrupt party. The party of Wall Street rather than the party for Main Street. At the same time the Democrats drifted further to the left leaving conservatives within the party disenfranchised. I was one of those conservative Democrats. The party had changed so much that it no longer was able to meaningfully address the issues important to all. Both parties failed the people. One party became the party of greed and corruption which continues to this day in Alaska and Washington D.C. where the administrations continue to be racked by scandals. At the same time those on the extreme left continue to drive the Democrats and the direction of the party.
A year or so ago I attended a meeting of “progressives” in Anchorage although they were mostly Democrats and a few of us independents. I listened and participated over two days looking for a reason: I was considering why I, as a conservative in the Alaska Independence Party (AIP), would ever consider switching back to a Democrat after twelve years. In fact, I had gone to the meeting looking for a rational that would make sense. I wanted to join one of the major political parties where I might have the chance to impact the future in Alaska in a positive way. I could not join the party of corruption, the Republicans, because fundamentally laying aside all of the rhetoric on religious and social issues the party still really represented outside special Wall Street interests that continue to buy off our national delegation with so called “campaign contributions” and “war chests” packed with millions. Is this democracy of a Republican or Democratic kind? I think not and believe that most people would agree with me. In the meeting of “progressives I attended it mostly represented environmentalists, gay rights activists, labor unions, feminists and a few others. Where were the Native Americans, blacks, truck drivers, homemakers, secretaries and working people? In those two days of meetings I failed to see represented there the true diversity of the Alaskan people and I voiced that concern. Others voiced the fact that they felt unwelcome in the party. These individuals had deep religious convictions and had come to feel that the party had become intolerant of religion, particularly Christians.
My brother Mark showed up in the middle of one of the days and gave a speech. The group was galvanized and the speech was brief. It did not touch the esoteric issues that divide all people and create so much fear, anger and hate. No, he addressed the foundational and fundamental issues that affect each person regardless of their personal religious, political or other beliefs. This is not a Democratic or Republican idea – this is an American ideal – by the people, of the people and for the people. It is about what we do to create a better city, state, nation and world. It is about being able to disagree on the social and esoteric issues but agree on a platform of freedom and justice.
A few weeks ago I read the complete Declaration of Independence again. I had not done that in thirty years, many Americans have never even read it. As I thought about the words and the spirit of the people who embraced them over two hundred years ago I was overwhelmed by the impact they had on me. I thought, how far we had drifted from these ideas that had created such a great nation as ours. A nation based on the unity of spirit in the diversity that allowed us to exist here together. It was about humanity as the foundation of this nation in an environment of understanding that, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,…”
The mainstream political parties in the United States have lost touch with Americans because of the same problem – intolerance of our differences and our right to disagree. Intolerance with our parties is the beginning of a corrupt government. To throw off the corruption of our government has to first be attempted through our political parties that do elect people. I have spent the last year looking at both parties and am joining the Democratic Party as a conservative, Christian person. I want to help rebalance the tolerance scale of the party that I was born into, a party that once represented the issues of working people, the elderly, the poor and the down trodden. I believe that people, human beings, should lift each other up so that we can each reach our highest and best potentials as individuals. I am going back to the Democratic party to help make it truly the progressive party which can look forward to improving peoples lives and not controlling them. I believe that there is room for a conservative voice within the Democratic Party – I hope to be part of that voice.