A plague o’ both your houses

When you grow up in a political family, you start early. One of my first memories is of Dad showing me a newspaper cartoon of President Eisenhower tying up a pair of sneakers. The caption read “Ike puts on his running shoes again.”  Since Eisenhower announced that he would seek a second term on Feb. 29, 1956, this cartoon would have appeared three weeks before my fifth birthday.

Politics had been dinner-table conversation since I was in a high-chair. Dad was a young lawyer and the political protégé of Attorney General J. Lindsay Almond, who was elected Governor in 1957, the year I started first grade.  By the time I got to Thomas Dale, Dad was starting his 18-year career in the General Assembly.

Growing up as I did, most of my friends wonder why I’ve never run for public office. The reason is pretty simple:

American politics is dominated by two political parties, and I dislike both of them. It just took me a few decades to realize how much.

My parents were Democrats, at a time when Democrats dominated Virginia politics. But by the time I finished law school, my instincts and education both inclined me toward the liberal wing of the Republican Party – the “Rockefeller wing,” which traced its heritage through Eisenhower back to TR, Lincoln, Henry Clay and Alexander Hamilton.

So, in 1978, I joined the GOP and became active in John Warner’s Senate campaign – which pitted me against local supporters of conservative favorite Dick Obenshain.

Timing is everything. Two years after I joined the Republicans, Ronald Reagan led the party’s right wing to absolute victory.  Liberal Republicans became an endangered species, and – unlike born-and-bred Republicans – I saw no reason to stick around.  I became an independent, and mostly stayed that way until 2001.

At that point, seeing how far the GOP had moved beyond the optimistic, good-hearted conservatism of Mr. Reagan, I decided – for lack of a better option – to rejoin the Democrats.  

It was never a good fit. I worked in a few campaigns, and actually served a term on the State Central Committee.  But I never felt at home.  

By 2005, I was an independent again, and until a decent third party comes along, I intend to stay that way. That’s an odd position for someone whose political memories go back to age four, and it pretty much guarantees I’ll never be a candidate for anything.  But I loathe one party, and detest the other.

To me, contemporary Republicans verge upon the delusional, while Democrats are clueless weenies. Whenever I spend time among Democrats, I leave wanting a stiff drink.

When I escape the company of Republicans, I want a long, hot shower.

Or maybe vice versa.

Interestingly, my disgust with the two major parties is no longer a minority attitude.  Last summer, the Pew Center announced that – for the first time in its survey records – the number of self-identified independents had matched that of the larger party (Democrats) at 34 percent.

In other words, if America had a third party designed to appeal to independent voters, it might instantly become competitive with the two major parties. Of course, starting a third party isn’t easy.  Even when there’s a third alternative, most Americans end up voting for a major-party candidate, lest they “waste” their votes.

Personally, I’ve never understood this kind of thinking. My vote is an expression of my opinion.  Thus, voting for a third party candidate – or even writing in the name of some good citizen – is not a “waste.”

Voting for a candidate I dislike, as “the lesser of two evils” – that’s the real “waste.”

I intend to follow this logic in the upcoming election.  Unless one of the two major parties has put up a particularly impressive candidate, I’ll either vote for an independent, or write in the name of some citizen I think would do a good job.

It beats voting for “the lesser of two evils.” And who knows? If enough people did the same, it might send a message to both parties.

Or help start a third party.


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