by Michael Stafford
I’m a life-long Republican. My political affiliation has been woven intrinsically into the very fabric of my being.
When I was young, Ronald Reagan bestrode the world like a colossus. I grew up watching the Cold War end-game play out as Reagan faced down the Soviet Union- which really was evil- and helped break the long night of communist repression in Eastern Europe. He was my hero.
Indeed, my first political act was passionately lobbying my fourth-grade classmates to vote for Reagan over Walter Mondale in a mock election in 1984. As an adult, I continued to be a rock-solid Republican- I helped run my law school’s chapter of the Federalist Society and its Republican club. And after the election of President Obama in 2008, I served as an officer in my state Republican Party. For the next two years, I devoted substantial amounts of my time, my talent, and my treasure to supporting local candidates running for office and to building the Party organization.
Today, however, I am a registered Republican no longer.
I came to the decision to leave the GOP not with a heavy heart, but with a broken one.
I reached this point through a long series of awakenings and realizations- a path marked by literally years of wrestling with, and finally accepting, the political implications of a number of difficult truths. It involved ever-increasing levels of cognitive dissonance, as I tried to square my experiences, concerns, and knowledge, with my continued loyalty to the GOP.
As a local GOP official after President Obama’s election, I had a front-row seat as it became infected by a dangerous and virulent form of political rabies.
In the grip of this contagion, the Republican Party has come unhinged. Its fevered hallucinations involve threats from imaginary communists and socialists who, seemingly, lurk around every corner. Climate change- a reality recognized by every single significant scientific body and academy in the world- is a liberal conspiracy conjured up by Al Gore and other leftists who want to destroy America. Large numbers of Republicans- the notorious birthers- believe that the President was not born in the United States. Even worse, few figures in the GOP have the courage to confront them.
Republican economic policies are also indefensible. The GOP constantly claims that its opponents are engaged in “class warfare,” but this is an exercise in projection. In Republican proposals, the wealthy win, and the rest of us lose- one only has to look at Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget to see that.
As Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have written, “the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” Its reckless behavior helps drive the political dysfunction crippling our nation.
In the end, it offers a dystopian vision of our future- a harsher, crueler and more merciless America starkly divided between the riders, and the ridden.
From the moment the Tea Party emerged on the scene, I had a premonition that I would eventually have to leave the GOP. But my mind conjured innumerable reasons for delay- for putting off the day of reckoning in the desperate hope that some game-changing miracle would occur, such as a victory by Governor Jon Huntsman in the Republican presidential primary.
But no miracle happened. Among all the difficult truths I’ve had to face, perhaps none has been harder than the realization that I, and those dissidents like me, are unrepresentative outliers far removed from, and largely unable to influence, the main currents of opinion within the GOP.
Ultimately, leaving the GOP was necessary in order to maintain my own integrity. Leaving is also a public act of personal protest. I am under no illusions about its broader significance- it will have no impact on the trajectory of the political narrative in this nation. But that does not make it futile. On the contrary, as the shadows lengthen, such minor individual acts of defiance and dissent are more critical now than ever before.
Perhaps, one day, a reformed and responsible Republican Party will reemerge.
But until then, the GOP and I have reached a parting of the ways. In the poignant words of “Kathleen Mavourneen,” an old Irish ballad: “It may be for years, and it may be forever.”
© Copyright 2012 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of “An Upward Calling.” Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org