In recent months, this community has increasingly flattered me with recommended diaries, digg requests, personal friendships, and even job offers. You have praised me when I've said something cool, forgiven me when I've said something offensive, and always treated my ideas with respect, even when they were opposed to the prevailing progressive opinion. Since I signed up for Kos more than three years ago, I've written scores of diaries, and apparently more than 3,700 comments.
So, at the risk of losing my trusted user status for the first time in years, I'd like to come clean about something.
I voted for George W. Bush.
I began my Kos "career" as what the FAQ would define as a "concern troll". In 2004, I ran a well-known anti-Kerry blog, and though I was no longer the "fan" of Bush I had been four years prior, I believed in the necessity of the war in Iraq, and believed Bush genuinely had the best interests of the nation, and the world, at heart. Yet even though I had been convinced that Bush was the better choice, I remained curious as to why so many of my similarly intelligent, well-educated friends would continue to support the Democratic candidate instead. As a voracious reader and researcher, I firmly believed my opinions represented the only intellectually honest and defensibly logical positions available. What, then, was I missing?
In truth, I'd always shared many Democratic ideals, but felt, in general, that the limited government, pro-capitalism and libertarian ideals of the Republican Party had to take precedent, for the benefit of society, even if it was at the expense of some individuals. Now, as an atheist musician who marched in gay pride parades, I was never exactly the poster child for Young Republicans to begin with. I was the product of hippie liberal parents, born and raised in a poor black community, who believed (and still do) in John F. Kennedy (who I'm named after) and the trite-sounding but still-profound message of "ask not what your country can do for you." The Democratic Party, I believed, had never really learned the lesson of the "give a man a fish / teach a man to fish" parable. I believed the only solution to saving my friends and neighbors in poverty was to stop public assistance, not increase it.
I watched my father, one of the most brilliant men I've ever known, gradually shift from a 1960s-marching liberal activist to a hard-core, arch-conservative around the time I was really getting into politics. Undoubtedly, this influenced my political beliefs through my teenage years (I was voted "Most Conservative" in my high school yearbook), because my dad seemed so sure that he had been "wrong", and now was "right". For him, the revelation that liberal ideologies didn't work came from the career he devoted his life to: teaching in inner city Detroit. He felt, and still does, that the causes he once faught for (particularly affirmative action and welfare) actually had the opposite effect, and created a "dependent class" of people who were trapped into voting for one (and only one) political party -- a party that always promised to help, but only just enough to continue the dependence. The Republican message, in contrast, has always been that the government shouldn't help anyone unless they had already proven themselves successful, under the theory that incentives to produce were the only incentives that worked. In practice, this translates into "ignoring the poor and helping the rich", but this is not, I submit, an "evil" message, cold as it may seem. In fact, in an Ayn Randian universe, it's quite moral on its own terms. The abstract thinker in me was, and occasionally still is, won over by the logic of this and similar libertarian arguments.
So, back to early 2005. I had read Kos and additional sites from "the other side" quite often, but never joined one. I knew I couldn't become a member as a conservative, but I wanted desperately to engage in the dialog. I wanted to understand "the enemy", especially to see if, on certain positions, there may be something I had overlooked. I wanted to have positive conversations with people who agreed with my liberal positions (which was impossible on sites like LGF or RedState or PowerLine), but also have debates with people who disagreed with my conservative positions (again, impossible on the right-wing sites). Unfortunately, it would have also been impossible at DailyKos, unless I portrayed myself as a life-long Democrat who was simply "concerned", as it were, on a particular issue I wanted to discuss. And, indeed, there were a few Kossacks who were convinced from the beginning, quite adamantly so, that I was a Republican wolf in sheep's clothing. I would, of course, express shock and dismay at the accusation (i.e. "Armando, how could you say that!?!?!") It's weird to be genuinely hurt when accused of lying, even when you are, in fact, lying.
Ultimately, I tried my best to be honest 99% of the time. But that 1%, the part that allowed me to stay on the site and participate in the discussion, was a violation of the site's rules, and insulting to this community. I do, quite sincerely, apologize.
I apologize not only because of the dishonesty, but because of what happened over 2006 and 2007. I began to finally understand that the progressive movement was about lifting people up, not demanding "gimmes" from an ever-expanding government. And indeed, I began to see that all the talk of "small government" and "fiscal responsibility" and "everyone is equal so no one needs help" from the Republican Party was just, well, rhetoric. Empty spin. Republicans never seemed to follow their own rules, morality, or principles. And, shockingly, even though it was so-called "Republican" ideals that attracted me to their party, it seemed like Democrats were actually the ones whose votes and policies achieved the results the Republicans kept promising.
I had publicly supported the war in Iraq because of a deep belief that Democratic government is a moral obligation and right to all humanity. And I still believe this, as I'm sure many of you do. But in practice, you just can't force Democracy on a country, especially in the wildly incompetent manner of the Bush administration. Democracy has to be encouraged and nurtured from within, as is happening now among the student-aged population of Iran. I firmly believe that we will see a secular Democratic Iran in our lifetime, but it won't be achieved through war. I think the moment this finally clicked with me was when some television talking head -- I forget who -- lamented "who is the Iraqi George Washington? Who is their Jefferson?" Even if the aims for a Democratic Middle East were perhaps noble, the actions taken to achieve this were, to put it mildly, counter-productive. And, now that we know the reasons for war weren't really due to some selfless desire to spread freedom, the war was (and is) an even more intolerable and unforgivable national sin.
It got worse. One by one, through countless discussions and arguments with members of this community, my reasons for being a Republican began to waver, their foundations cracking and crumbling and toppling like dominoes. I was exposed to writers I had never given much attention to, showed research I hadn't discovered for myself, and told personal stories from perspectives I hadn't considered. On some issues, particularly with regards to health care, my long-held "truths" (read: misconceptions) were irreparably shattered. While in most cases my fundamental principles didn't change, my understanding of who to trust to achieve those principles did.
For example, especially as a Type 1 diabetic, I always wanted the goal of the U.S. having the best health care in the world. Since I believed this could only be accomplished through the private sector, I concluded that those who supported universal health care must not share this goal. I think this is the fundamental problem with political discourse today, and is true of issue after issue -- we assume the "other side" must desire the opposite end result that we do, since we think our ideas would work, and theirs would not. But in nearly all cases, both sides do want the same end result -- the difference is in how to get there. In fact, when I go back and read my writings from my hard-core Republican days, I'm struck not so much by how I disagree with the positions, but how much I still agree with the positions -- just not, emphatically, on the proper path to reach them.
In 2006, I left the Republican Party and became an independent. Last year, shortly after my daughter was born, I became a progressive. I look into this tiny person's eyes, and all I want is the best and brightest future imaginable. The selfishness of Ayn Rand capitalism is the equivalent of intellectual masturbation -- satisfying in an ego-stroking way, but an ethical void when it comes to our commonly shared humanity. I re-read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in the past year, and while I still enjoy them immensely, I found myself asking different questions, ultimately realizing this: the idea that the human ideal should be complete isolation, refusing to help or be helped by anyone, is ludicrous. Did no one change Roark's diapers? Did no one help Galt learn to read? Republican viewpoints are fine for an individual, I suppose. But it's not just about "me" anymore. I have a family now. We're all in this together. And even as a non-believer, I find myself continually baffled that the so-called Party of Christian Virtue(tm) seems to be the night-and-day polar opposite of Christian principles in practice.
This website has a policy of kicking off Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, and I suppose I can accept the logic in that. (This is not the "official" policy, of course, but in practice that's generally what seems to happen.) But this site almost single-handedly (though it took some time) made me switch sides. It was all of you who finally convinced me that my lifelong party (hell, I fundraised for Bob Dole) was simply in the wrong. I am ashamed that I had to lie in order to join this community. But if I hadn't, I'd probably be organizing a McCain rally instead of organizing for Obama. I wonder how many other open-minded Republicans, who were "caught" and deleted early on, would have eventually experienced my conversion, if they had just been allowed to stay and debate a little longer. I'm not suggesting the no-Republicans rule be lifted, but I wish there was an online political community a tenth as strong as this one in which Democrats and Republicans could debate together without having to pretend to be someone they aren't.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'll still disagree with my new party from time to time. I still adamantly oppose, on principle, some things I know most of you support (such as judicial filibusters, or the fairness doctrine). I cannot promise to always adhere to the party line on issues when, in my mind and heart, I just can't quite agree.
But I can promise you this.
I will spend every single day, from now until the election, making sure that Barack Obama becomes the next President of the United States (no matter, by the way, who he chooses as his Vice-President). I will spend every single day working to discredit John McCain and the Republican Party's misguided positions. I will volunteer for every national, state, and local Democrat I have time for, and maybe even some I don't. I will continue to create advertisements, for internet distribution and television, highlighting exactly why the Republican Party can no longer be trusted with government policy or, most especially, national security. And I will still post my thoughts here, as cartwrightdale, if you'll still have me.
But I am not "cartwrightdale".
My name is John Kennedy Addis, of East Lansing, Michigan.
And I am a Democrat.