I’m willing to guess that the most common way to start a political discussion is with the question ‘are you a Democrat or a Republican?’ From there, the discussion all too often goes downhill.
People generally like more about either the Democratic or Republican party and your inclination might be to answer with the party you most associate with. It’s a quick way to identify yourself in a sea of views and relate to millions of other Americans.
If you find yourself in the company of a fellow party member then you’re in luck; you can commiserate about the insanity of the other party and its members.
But maybe you find yourself with someone of the other party. This situation has the potential to lead to a great amount of sharing of different views, and both learning as well as growing from them. You can have a genuinely constructive discussion in this scenario, but all too often the process gets derailed by the labels “Democrat” and “Republican.”
It’s as though answering with a political party automatically means you stand for anything and everything anybody of your party has ever done. What a big burden that is; it’s probably not what you were asking for when you answered their question but it’s nevertheless the situation you find yourself in.
You’re a Republican? Well then Bush must be your biggest political hero, you must not care about the poor or infirmed, and you certainly don’t care about the environment at all. You’re a Democrat? Well then you must hate the wealthy, you must think we all should have to drive hybrids, and you must definitely be a socialist.
See how constructive the conversation has become? It’s a bloody nightmare! How can you have a peaceful discussion with all of these stereotypes flying around? It’s as though saying you’re a Democrat or Republican has given the person the illusion of being able to read your mind — and yet what they’re seeing is almost entirely wrong.
Among the Democratic and Republican parties there are many differences of opinions. Many of them are minor differences, but for some, they can be earth-shattering. Some Republicans are pro-gay marriage and some Democrats don’t believe that global warming is human-caused. Americans don’t simply fit into two categories. There is so much more depth to the American public than two layers that it’s a shame we all too often act as though it’s the case.
In my case, I find not answering the question surprisingly easy, as I really don’t see myself leaning towards one party or another. First off there’s the fact that so many politicians don’t seem to represent the people that elected them — but let’s leave that thought alone for now.
What I believe in is freedom and liberty, plain and simple. People should have the right to choose what they want to do with their own lives, so long as it doesn’t infringe on other people’s ability to do the same. Life is too short for people to be telling others how to live their lives; I want to make my own choices. Freedom should be both economic and social. To me, the parties seem to each have one but not the other.
My money should be just that: mine. I’m a generous person and have no problem being charitable on my own. I want to choose where my money goes and give it only to the places that I really think help people. Should I not feel like giving to charity, well then are you really helping by forcing money from me and giving it to what you deem to be “good causes” or is that stealing?
My life choices should be my own. The government shouldn’t be involved in marriages, nor should the government be involved in dictating what drugs people can or can’t put into their own bodies (so long as it doesn’t put other people at risk, e.g. drunk driving). My private communications should be private and nobody should be held indefinitely without a trial, labeled a “terrorist” or not.
Please don’t confuse me with an anarchist. I strongly believe in the rule of law. As James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” put it: “the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce.”
So next time you find yourself faced with the dreaded “are you a Republican or Democrat” question I’d encourage you to try to define your own views, whatever they may be, without using the words liberal, conservative, Democrat, or Republican. See how many stereotypes you can avoid by staying away from those four words and see how it forces the discussion to be on what your ideas really are — not what the other person guesses them to be from overly-broad labels. Perhaps this way we can have more constructive political discussions that we actually enjoy and feel like we learned something from.