An Independent’s Lament: Let Me Out of this Dying Breed

I held back from the 2012 election, in part through taking the Howard Schultz pledge not to give money to any candidate until Washington decides to focus on America’s issues rather than partisan politics. No one noticed my absence except those dozens of robo-callers who learned that “William and Ann don’t live here.” Penny and I instead gave the money to our family foundation where we decided it would do a lot more good – in health care, leadership, spirituality and our community.

I grew up in a Republican family when it was a privilege to be part of a respectable group of people who believed in fiscal conservatism (i.e., living within your means) and social progressivism (i.e., accepting people for who they are, regardless of their differences from me).  In recent years moderates like me have nowhere to go.

The political architects of the modern Republican party, like Karl Rove, have built a coalition that emphasizes social conservatism at the expense of fiscal moderation (reasonable tax policy and reasonable expenditures).  In this party, there is no room for moderate Republicans – decent leaders like my friends Sen. David Durenberger, Prof. David Gergen, Tad Piper, Sec. John Whitehead, Rep. Jim Ramstad, Gov. Al Quie and Gov. Arnie Carlson.  Even my Grand Rapids neighbor President Jerry Ford would not have passed the ideological purity test of today’s Republican primaries. President Ford told my wife shortly before his death that if he were to run for office, he would have to run as a Democrat. So I became an independent who voted for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and supported President Obama’s 2008 message of hope.

Having lived through twelve years of Presidents who are fiscal liberals, I agonize as I see my generation bequeathing a mountain of debt to our children and grandchildren with entitlements so large they will bury all reasonable government programs. In the end, I voted for Obama – largely to keep the extremists in Romney’s party out of power.  After all, who could affiliate with Senate candidates like Todd Akin who spoke of “legitimate rape” and Richard Murdoch who said that women are raped because “God intended it”?

I now find myself part of a dying breed: an over-45, white, heterosexual, Protestant male college graduate with an income over $50,000. For decades our demographic held most of the leadership roles in this country, but we long ago became the small minority of American voters. Strangely, the Republican Party hasn’t yet figured that out. This was the only sub-group of voters that went solidly for Governor Romney, in part reflecting a desire to return to the “good old days.” (The good old days were never as good as we remember.) Meanwhile, I don’t want to be identified by this dying breed! I love my friends who are like me in demographic terms, but I also love my friends who are females, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims, and immigrants.

Sadly, I anticipate four more years of political gridlock in Washington.  Even if we escape the fiscal cliff, there will soon be yet another politically-motivated game of “Chicken.” Rather than spend wasted hours endlessly debating federal politics, I recommend following the sage advice of Robert F. Kennedy, who said in 1966, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

This generation can have the greatest impact by making a difference in our own environment: our communities, companies, non-profit organizations, churches and synagogues, and local governments.  Rather than playing politics, these organizations focus on the big problems troubling us: poverty, homelessness, global peace, education, job creation, the environment and healthy living.

The future belongs to those who would unite us as one people, because of not in spite of our differences, and who are willing to work together to solve intractable problems. They are the real leaders.