Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I Plan to Vote Democratic - Part 1

How I Might Have Been a Republican

[This is the first in a series of blogs on my intent to vote not only for President Obama, but a straight Democratic ticket at the national, state, and local levels. I plan to look at issues that are important to me and I believe important to the American people.

I welcome your responses, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or something else. I will publish whatever comments you have unless they are mean-spirited or do not speak directly to the issue addressed in that particular blog. In this first segment I write about my Republican roots, I invite you to share your stories of how you have come to the political affiliations you have; or if you don’t have any at all.]

[10/03/2012 Updates: See Susan's story in the Comments and Bert's story following mine.]

Had I followed in the footsteps of my father and mother, aunts and uncles, their parents and grandparents, I would have been a Republican. As far as I know, they never changed their Republican affiliations. A second cousin is a Republican Representative in the House.

If it weren’t for my Republican great grandfather, Amos Lancaster Thornberry, I might still be in the Republican fold. I assume he was a Republican because before he was old enough to vote he left his Confederate-believing family in Kentucky to join the Union Army in the Civil War. He was a supporter of Abraham Lincoln’s effort to save the union and  he  believed slavery was wrong. He fought through the war, was wounded, and after the war returned to Kentucky only long enough to marry his fiancĂ©, and go to Texas. He never had contact with his Kentucky family again.

While I was told the story about great grandfather as I was growing up, my grandparents and parents told it with some pride; despite the fact that they had been born in Texas and held views on race that were typically southern. I'm not sure they knew that the Republican Party had been founded in 1854 by anti-slavery activists. In school I tried, really tried, to fit in by identifying with the racial views of my peers, but in the background there was always the memory of my great grandfather. His middle name was given to me and I was proud of it.

When the Civil Rights Movement erupted in the 1950s, my family members were vehement in their condemnation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and regarded him as a “communist agitator” just like they viewed President Franklin Roosevelt - in spite of the fact that FDR probably saved their farms and ranches during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl.

As a class assignment, I went to hear Dr. King speak at a voter registration rally in Dallas in 1960. It was as if my great grandfather were speaking directly to me, saying that he would have been a part of the Movement, not a part of the white opposition to it. It was a life-changing and a party-affiliation-changing moment in my life. Of course, I was surrounded by southern Democrats and Republicans whose views were mirror images of those of most of my family and the people with whom I grew up.

I was grateful for Republican President Eisenhower’s sending the federal troops to Central High in Little Rock in 1957 to ensure the safety of the first black students, but when I came to the first opportunity to exercise my right to vote I believed that a John Kennedy administration would be a better friend of the Civil Rights Movement than one of Richard Nixon. There were still liberals and progressives on race issues in the Republican Party, but Nixon was not Eisenhower, and neither were like the party that nominated and that elected Abraham Lincoln a hundred years earlier.

I would like to think that I would have joined with my great grandfather in 1860, but in 1960 I think he would have been a Kennedy Democrat. That was good enough for me. Since then, the progressive wing of the Republican Party has been excommunicated and their policies on race have continued to narrow and harden. There have been Democratic policies I didn’t like over the years, and there have also been some in the Obama administration. I’ll tell you about them in subsequent pieces in this series. But compared to candidates and policies Republicans have offered over these years, for me there has been no comparison.  

My great grandfather is one reason why I plan to vote Democratic in November. What about you? How did you become whatever you are?

- Milo

UPDATE: Bert's Story 

Why I am a DemoCrat/republican/socialist.( republiCratist?): I grew up in a working class family which struggled  to make ends meet, but a family that believed in and supported unionism and collective bargaining  that allowed  workers to  share in the proceeds of their productivity. Thereis no question that those early years, wherever we come from, stick with us wherever we go. I believe that the Capital C in Crat, is a vital  element of a society that professes to be democratic--that allows all voices to be heard:  the willing. the unwilling, the sick,  the lame, the haves, the have nots, the owners, the disowned. I am a Crat who believes that upward mobilitycomes through a society's commitment to education, training and open institutions that allow those with tenacity and talent to rise beyond humble beginnings to achieve above the class and status into which they were born and to and make a contribution to society, not just take from it.

Part of the repubIican  (our nation is a republic, after all--the small r is purposeful) in us all,  is the acceptance of the rule of laws, which should reflect an expression of the values, norms,and  goals of  the populace--something our founders expressed very well.  Law, along with social norms, is an important factor in  regulating human conduct--as long as the law supports and reinforces trends toward maintaining and improving the human condition. When the law denies human progress, when it excludes rather than includes,  it is cause for political revolt, peaceful or otherwise. Another side of the republican component of my belief  is the importance of the private business sector.  It must  be profitable, it must be innovative, it must be competitive while being socially and environmentally responsible.  To be these things, it must be properly regulated so that it contributes to society as a whole, not just to those who may be investors, board members, or high-paid executives.  It must be taxed.

Finally,  I am socialist, who has great respect for those mature countries which have devoted energies to improving the quality of human life by  providing basic levels of support, including income, educational  and  social services, and health care.  I believe they  are way ahead of  countries which have not yet come to terms with the inherent conflicts between unbridled capitalism and the human need for safety, security, and freedom of expression.   Yes, I am a demorepubliist-- or a repubsocialdemocan, or a something like it, that hopes and even prays that we Americans can get it all together.  



Susan S. said...

(Too long?)
How did I become what I am? My maternal grandfather was a native of Winn Parish, Louisiana, home of Huey P. Long. He and my grandmother were Baylor University graduates, uncommon accomplishments among their peers in the 1910’s. They settled in a tiny rural village in the parish and provided for their family of six children by teaching in the local school, running and later owning a small mercantile, and farming, mostly subsistence but some small cash crops. They were pillars of the community. He was the first (volunteer) mayor; both taught the adult Sunday school classes and he filled the pulpit on many occasions, especially when the church was between pastors. My mother reports that dinner-table and after-dinner-on-the-porch conversations were often about politics, especially the Longs, whom they reviled; these continued when the children, as adults, returned with their own families for visits. Three of the children pursued higher education and became university professors; three pursued trades and were good providers for their families. My parents met on his weekend visit to see a friend at the college she and my mother attended. He, too, came from a modest background: his father managed sawmills and his mother and grandmother (until her death when he was 12) ran the family dairy; he and his brothers helped. He pursued higher education in his quest to enter the ministry and, later, academia. All of us children finished college and earned graduate degrees. How does a focus on education make me what I am? Because it’s about opportunities. The opportunity for solid education at decent public schools. The opportunity to have a small leg up with some parental help with college tuition because they had some expendable income. The opportunity for an available part-time job to help with living expenses. The opportunity for grants and loans to bridge the gaps. The opportunity to work hard and apply myself and manage to provide for my own children, working mostly multiple part-time jobs (with no benefits) because that choice helped me balance work and family. What about those who don’t have the opportunity, who are hopeless about the future? Don’t they become the drains on resources, on society? I believe government plays a critical role in providing opportunities to humans. It is a complex situation, not unlike a game of pick-up sticks: try to move one without disturbing any other! I’ve been the beneficiary of government programs: a federal education grant and a commercial loan; after losing my first job in a reduction in work force, unemployment benefits; although nearly broke, I found a job quickly and so never had to apply for food stamps or welfare; in some later years, no federal income tax because exemptions and deductions offset income; in fact, for a couple of years, refunds based on Earned Income Credit and Child Tax Credit; now benefit from lower tax rates on capital gains. These didn’t make me a victim entitled to government services; they built bridges at strategic crossing points, allowing me, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, to climb the ladder from recipient to provider, from hand-to-mouth renter to homeowner with small investment pool to survive retirement years (no company pensions or bonuses) – and Social Security will provide, at best, for only the most basic expenses … as long as I can live at home and am healthy. Government, at its best, should be about the things that individuals, groups and states can’t do alone and about systems to ensure opportunities for anyone able to pursue them and a safety net for those unable. I am appalled at companies sitting on record profits while the unemployed can’t find work. I am livid that executives rake in millions in salaries and bonuses while worker wages stagnate. I am heartbroken that health care and higher education are being priced out of reach of many families. While I don’t agree or disagree with 100% of what either party or candidate stands for, the choice related to opportunities for the ordinary citizen seems pretty clear.

Milo Thornberry said...

Not at all too long, Susan! You did just what I hoped some folks would do. Thanks!