Archive for October, 2012

Why I am a Democrat

Monday, October 1st, 2012

(11/6/12 UPDATE: Congratulations, America! You got it right and you won. And with even more votes and enthusiasm than in 2008!)

With the November Presidential election barreling down upon us and the country more polarized than ever, I don’t consider it a particular act of bravery to come out as a Democrat; but I do believe it’s an honor.

Former President Clinton in his speech at the Democratic National Convention summarized the current philosophies of the two parties as, “Winner takes all,” versus, “We’re all in this together.”

My father was the smartest and most decent man I ever knew. He never stopped improving his education by reading and had a library of the Harvard Classics, Will and Arial Durant’s History of the World, Winston Churchill’s History of English Speaking People, and just about every other historical text you could imagine. He loved history. And he passionately supported Democrats. From the earliest age, I can remember standing with a campaign poster at age 10 near voting locations before I even knew what voting was or who I was supporting (Carlton Sickles, a Maryland House Democrat, it turns out). We were taught to be involved, invested. My dad was involved. As a civil attorney for our Maryland county, he believed in justice for everyone. He supported Civil Rights before it was more widely popular. He voted for John F. Kennedy primarily for his civil rights stance, and then took our entire family to President Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration to see the man who would finally fulfill Kennedy’s vision and pass that Civil Rights Act.

He used to explain that Democrats passed Social Security, Medicare and, to him, to most important contribution to the building of the American middle class – the G.I. Bill. Veterans such as my father returning from fighting in World War II were supported by the government through education assistance programs and easy-to-finance housing loans. Those education programs put my father through law school at night so he could get a job that would support three kids and allow our mother to stay home to raise us. Those loans would give us a modest house in the suburbs where we could enjoy security that millions of other Americans were finally able to enjoy as they pursued their version of the American dream. Because my father had served his country, our great country with a conscience… ‘had his back.’

That’s all we’re asking of our government. We’re all in this together. And we’re only as strong as the weakest among us.

No one is saying government is perfect, fair, efficient or always right. Government is often sloppy, inefficient, and unjust. But it’s also more often better than the alternative. The government, which functions to collect taxes to offer services to the people, at least has its heart in the right place, if not its brain. Government has a conscience because it consists of people who recognize the need for teachers, police, firefighters, good roads, safe bridges, pollution restrictions, disaster relief, social security nets, infrastructure and all the other services it provides and the ‘real’ people it employs who provide them.

Corporations have no conscience (and they’re not ‘people’ either, but that’s another story). They serve a smaller group of people than the electorate known as investors, and their only mandate is to continuously make a profit no matter the tactics. If that could legally involve hiring 10 year-olds working in toxic sweat shops in Indonesia for 10 cents per hour, so what?

Countries in Europe have been around centuries longer than America experimenting with governing systems. Most of them have found a balance between the best tenets of capitalism and some parts of socialism (that’s socialism, folks, NOT communism). Germany, the strongest economy in the world today, supports their workers through government subsidized education, health care, and retirement. Conservatives would have us believe that welfare systems encourage lack of productivity, but the reality is just the opposite. Workers have a better attitude and are more productive when they know the government ‘has their back’ and that they won’t go broke or become destitute if they have a health crisis. They know the taxed labor they put in over a lifetime helps sock something away for them when they retire. How can any society assume everyone knows best how to manage their own money? How can you possibly concentrate on that, and still do the backbreaking labor many of those jobs require that build our infrastructure?

An estimated 68 percent of college graduates are either Democrats or progressives (with some Libertarians). Being educated and well-informed  facilitates a better understanding of the ‘big picture;’ – not just how a current situation, policy or event effects one of us, but how it can affect us all. History does repeat. Anyone studying the history of Afghanistan would know it’s a quagmire of unconquerable tribes in an impenetrable landscape. The Russians walked away after 10 years of trying.

History could have sent a red flag against going into Iraq with an invading army (instead of just a Navy Seal team to take out Saddam). History could have kept us out of repeating so many mistakes thinking we can control events throughout the world with pure military might. One of my dad’s favorite volumes was historian Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, The March of Folly. We now all understand what that ‘folly’ is that America readily goes marching after.

It seems like 99 percent of creative writers, actors, poets and musicians are also either Democrats or progressives. One reason is they tend to have traveled more, met other cultures and people in their curiosity to find ideas to inspire their craft. But the main quality that defines good writers or actors is their ability to fully inhabit the reality of those other characters, whether on the page, the screen, in verse, or on the stage. Writers understand what it means to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ because we do it every day to develop and form our characters. There’s no way you can do this effectively without developing some empathy for your subjects, no matter what path they walk upon, high or low, or whether you personally know them.

I consider myself a true patriot who loves America enough to want the best from her, but not to the point where I am blind to how she can always be improved. I resent anyone who questions my love for country beneath their own. And I have no problem paying more taxes if those levies are used wisely to make improvement in the lives for all Americans.

We  really ARE all in this together, but the Democratic National Convention looked a lot more like the America I live in.  I even saw a guy who looked like Jesus on the floor of the DNC, a bit scraggly, somewhat disheveled, and with a beard.

But he had a smile on his face, and was carrying a sign that read; “We’re all in this together.”

And he was wearing a “Forward with Obama” button.

— A. Wayne Carter