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How I Became a Democrat
When I was a Republican
I first became interested in politics in 1960, the year I graduated from high school, and the year of the Kennedy/Nixon election. I found Kennedy a very attractive candidate—mainly because of his gorgeous hair and beautiful family. But my family were Republicans: we liked Ike. I liked Ike the same way I liked the Yankees during the World Series. That was the team my big brother liked.
My family's allegiance to the Republican Party dated back to the days of my great-grandfather who had been born just after the Civil War. I was always convinced we had been on the right side in that war. I felt no identification with those Southerners who thought “we” had lost the war. The Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln. I was very proud of it.
My Journey to the Left
I could not vote in the 1960 election. (18 year olds were not given the right to vote until 1971). But I was still interested in the political process and watched much of those conventions on our small black and white television.
I also watched that year as four young black students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's counter in North Carolina. Later I watched the freedom riders who came south to test the segregation laws and the angry mobs who attacked them. I watched Bull Connor use fire hoses and police dogs to attack peaceful demonstrators in Birmingham. And in 1963 I watched news reports of the four little girls killed when a bomb exploded at a church in Birmingham where they were attending Sunday School.
Then in 1964 I watched as Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. When the bill originally met with fierce opposition from Southern Senators, mostly Democratic, a bipartisan Senate committee came up with a compromise that attracted enough Republican Senators that they were able to overcome a filibuster by the opposition. Remember when compromise was still possible in Washington?
Even though this bill had been passed with a large bi-partisan majority, the Republican candidate for President that year, Barry Goldwater, fiercely opposed the bill during his campaign. This seemed to me like throwing gasoline on an already volatile situation and taking advantage of the anger for political purposes. I thought it appealed to some baser human instincts.
Here I Stand
“We've lost the South,” President Johnson reportedly told fellow Democrats. And I've watched through the years as that has happened and the South has turned solidly red. Even some of those Southern Democratic Senators, originally opposed to the Civil Rights Bill, became Republicans.
The Democratic party may have lost the South, but they gained my allegiance as I watched the political process closely during those and subsequent years.
I hear some people say there's no difference in the political parties, that they're all the same. No, they're not. Both parties may have philanderers, opportunists, even scoundrels, in equal proportions, but they're not the same. They stand for different things. They support or oppose different issues, and I believe political decisions need to be based on issues, not personalities. I never even liked Lyndon Johnson personally. He didn't even have good hair. But I sure did like the stand he took on this and other issues. And more importantly, the position the Democratic Party has taken on these issues.
To those who call themselves Independents I sometimes want to say, “Get off the pot.” The two-party system may not be ideal; it may even change over time. But, right now, that's what we have. Look at where each party stands on the issues and decide which party best fits your own views. Voting for a Democrat one year and a Republican the next sounds a little schizophrenic to me.
I have an acquaintance who is a Republican and admits she is a single issue voter. She was adopted and feels strongly about abortion. If her mother had chosen to have an abortion, she says, she would not be here. That is the most important issue to her and the reason she's a Republican. I respect that decision of hers. It is based on an issue.
Of course, civil rights is not the only issue that I agree with the Democrats on. I tend to be liberal in my thinking. I support Social Security, Medicare, universal health care, and gay rights. I don't know, though, if I would have been as strong a supporter of the party if it had not been for what I observed in the civil rights struggle during those formative years.
Even though I may be liberal in my thinking, when it comes to politics, I am practical. I believe in compromise and am not dismayed if I don't always get everything I want. I know that progress sometimes takes time. I am as annoyed by organizations like Move-on.org as I am by the Tea Party-- well, almost.
I also believe that both political parties are necessary. Without progressives there might be little progress, and without conservative we might go too fast.
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