Over at Rod Dreher’s joint, he’s got a great series going in which people explain how they have have formed their mental maps of the political world. I’ve been reflecting on my answer to this question.
I voted for the first time in the 1976 Presidential election, for Jimmy Carter. (I was old enough by a few weeks.) I had high hopes for Jimmy. They were not fulfilled. I was a pretty serious lefty at the time — the two magazines I subscribed to were New Times (look it up) and the Village Voice — but in the Carter years I started reading and seriously considering the conservative critique of American liberalism. George Will’s columns meant a lot to me in those days. Gradually I came to believe that the American left, or the Democratic Party anyway, talked a good game about the poor and disenfranchised but wasn’t interested in taking meaningful action; and that in relation to political and economic life generally Margaret Thatcher was right to say (if indeed she did say) that “the facts are conservative.” In 1980 I voted for Reagan.
Over the next few years I became convinced that Republicans were no more likely to live up to their rhetoric than Democrats. They preached about defending liberty and yet supported some of the world’s worst and cruelest tyrants. The trumpeted their pro-life commitments and yet took no meaningful action against the country’s abortion regime, even when they had a great deal of power. They claimed to speak for ordinary people like me and yet did nothing but help the rich get richer. They were no more likely to assess their economic policies in the light of evidence than Democrats were likely to assess their social policies in that light.
The Reagan years were for me an education in political cynicism. In the 1980s I came to believe what I still believe: That almost no elected politicians have principles that they’re willing to stake their careers on, and those who have such principles typically last a single term in office; that the rare politician who has integrity almost certainly lacks courage, while those who have courage lack integrity; that the extremely rare politician who has both courage and integrity will surely lack judgment; that the members of both major parties care primarily about getting and keeping power, secondarily about exerting that power over the powerless, and beyond that about nothing else whatsoever; that both parties are parties of death, differing only on their preferred targets (though they are equally fond, it seems, of military action in Asia); that the only meaningful criterion by which to judge who to vote for is encapsulated in the question Who will do less damage to our social fabric?
And because they’re all going to do damage, just of different kinds, for the last thirty years I have voted for third-party or write-in candidates. For much of that time I knew that I couldn’t vote for Democrats and debated whether I could vote for Republicans. The answer to that question was always No. But recently I have come to be absolutely certain that I can’t vote for Republicans, and have debated whether I can vote for Democrats. The answer to that question is, so far, also No, and I cannot envision that changing.
I oppose false equivalences as forcefully as anyone. But there are also true equivalences. And so I say, as I have said for three decades now: A plague on both their houses.