Still to the left of this guy:
Maybe even a bit to the left of this guy:
Here's one guy who's probably to the left of me:
What all these guys have in common (and I do apologize for not putting any women in this gallery, but sometimes I just want to get the damn thing written) is that they have had their positions distorted by both opponents and allies for their own purposes, and that those positions were far more nuanced than anyone gave them credit for.
In both politics and religion, nuance is the enemy of partisanism. People want simple, binary answers to their questions, sound-bite responses to issues that can be easily memorized, memed, and quoted ad infinitum on Facebook, Twitter, Pintarest, and whatever social medium du jour they get their news from. In churches, mosques, synagogues, and wherever else religious leaders wax homiletical, complicated, nuanced sermons generate congregational amnesia.
I grew up in the United Methodist Church. United Methodism is one of the mainline Protestant denominations, which means it's been around a long time and is an integral part of so many communities that everything about it is middle-of-the-road. Mainline denominations tend to have a slightly progressive edge to their positions, and are far more likely to have liberal members than most evangelical churches, but can be quite boring on a Sunday morning to the average young person, however, leftists he or she may be. The bottom line for most mainline churches is the fear of offending, so for the most part, mainline preachers err on the side of innocuousness.
What my mainline upbringing did for me was keep my mind open long enough for leftist ideas to come in. I had some conservative opinions as a teenager, on issues like abortion and nuclear energy, and I was stubbornly Republican until my first general election when, at age 19, I found myself incapable of voting for Ronald Reagan. I didn't want to vote for Jimmy Carter, either (though he's the candidate I've wished was on the ballot at least since 1992), so I picked the third party candidate, one of the few ever to successfully mount a general election bid: John Anderson. It helped that we shared a last name. No relation. I held my nose and voted to reelect Bob Packwood to the Senate, as well.
Anderson was the last non-Democrat I ever voted for in a national election, and while I would cast my ballot at least once for Mark Hatfield, I was essentially done with the Republican party. The next time I registered to vote, it was as an Independent.
I liked considering myself independent. It fit with my self-perception as one who makes up his own mind, and is not swayed by party labels. But in the years that followed, I realized more and more that there was not a single Republican I wanted in office--except dear old Mark Hatfield. In every other race, I simply went down the line and voted Democrat. This was making less and less sense, especially as, with Oregon's closed primaries, I was keeping myself from having a voice in choosing which candidates would represent the party that so clearly matched my political philosophy. The one exception was 1984 when, because I was attending grad school in Illinois, I was able to, on primary day, request a Democrat ballot (it gave me a strange thrill to do so, as if I was suddenly part of a party), for the sole purpose of voting for Jesse Jackson. It was a symbolic vote, grounded in my distaste for both Gary Hart and Walter Mondale and the daring thought of having an African-American President, but it felt good, like I'd registered a real opinion.
But one can only be shut out of a conversation for so long before one concludes it's time to have a voice. And in 1992, I registered Democrat for the first time. I've been a solid blue voter ever since.
Registration is not the same as full-bore party embrace, though. I have only worked for one political campaign, and that was a ballot measure (opposition to the anti-gay-marriage amendment). Political parties just don't do anything for me, in much the way mainline worship services no longer do anything for me.
My problem is the wishy-washiness of Democrats. It's hard to get a Democrat to stand for anything controversial. They're so wrapped up in trying to avoid rocking the boat, hanging onto the members they have, toning down the rhetoric of the Radical Right, building voting blocs with less cooperative members of their own party, and, of course, constantly running for reelection that there's just no time for principled positions on issues--positions which could work against them in the general election.
I wish Barack Obama could act with courage on his convictions. I also know he, of all politicians, has to walk a tightrope between the loud radical voices of both parties, striving to accomplish something, anything, despite the raging inertia of the legislative branch. And even if he were to act decisively on policies he believes in, I know those beliefs would fall short of mine. The Affordable Care Act is the worst way to run health care in this country--except for all the others that have been tried and allowed to evolve into the mess it currently is. He was way behind the curve on gay marriage, he's kept Guantanamo open, and he's made no changes at all in his predecessor's power-consolidating war policies--other than to suggest he's looking forward to finally giving them up, should we ever really truly get out of Afghanistan.
I knew all this before I voted for him. I hoped things would be better. I hoped the tide would turn, that we could have a new New Deal in Washington. I hoped the Republicans, chastened by the mess they and their President had gotten the country into, would be cooperative and reasonable in helping to clean it up. I didn't bargain on the Tea Party movement, or the rapidity with which the GOP--once proud to insist it was a "Big Tent" party with room for a broad spectrum of Americans (see my previous reference to Mark Hatfield, the lone Senate vote against invading Vietnam) would ditch all pretense of sanity, embracing a reactionary ideology that, if consistent, would be as critical of the last decade of Republican fiscal craziness as of any deficits that might have to be created to dig us out of the low tax, high military spending quagmire we're in.
And you know what? I would vote for him again. I know a lot of people who voted for Ralph Nader in 1980, insisting there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Four years later, even knowing how big a difference there actually had been, some of them still stubbornly clung to the Nader bandwagon. I was no fan of John Kerry--he seemed a terrible candidate to me--but even so, he was vastly to be preferred to the incumbent, so I voted for him. I voted once for an independent spoiler because I wasn't fond of the Democratic incumbent, and even less of his grinning movie star opponent; I now wonder how that relatively close election would've gone had John Anderson stayed out, rather than siphoning off progressive votes from Jimmy Carter. Never again. If there's ever a time to be utterly pragmatic, it's in the election of the politician who must be absolutely pragmatic if he or she is to avoid driving the nation off a cliff. I believe Barack Obama is acting as his years as a community organizer taught him to act, working toward accomplishing the most good he can in an atmosphere of bickering, grandstanding and obstructionism.
I started this by talking about how far left my opinions are, but I haven't gone into much detail about those opinions. Just so you know there's no bait-and-switch going on here, I believe in fully socialized medicine and utilities, in generous unemployment benefits coupled with government-funded infrastructure improvement to put people back to work, in publicly funded elections, in fully subsidized quality public education through a college degree; and to pay for it all, in a radical reduction not just to military spending, but to the size of our forces and our military presence throughout the world, coupled with restoring taxes to their pre-Reagan levels, especially on capital gains. I believe in building strong interdependent ties throughout the world, in full equal rights for all people, in liberal immigration policies, in alternate energy sources and reducing our carbon footprint, in promoting mass transit, in legalizing marijuana, and yes (please no comments, I know who you are) in gun control. There are many other leftist issues I could list in this credo, but you get the point. I'll vote for any of these issues if it comes up as a ballot measure.
As for politicans, though, you won't get me voting the Green Party ticket. Not, that is, until those guys get their act together enough to provide a true alternative, one that can actually win elections. Until they do, I will continue to vote Democratic--which is to say, I'll vote the Pragmatic ticket. Because I want people in office who can actually change something in a progressive way, and I know that's not happening in the Republican party, so the only people who can even begin to get us headed in the right direction wear blue donkeys at their conventions.