Sunday, June 11, 2006

POLITICAL LABELS: WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Hello again, friends. There's been an interesting discussion taking place lately on the NA Confidential blog regarding the philosophies associated with the two major political parties. Dyed in-the-wool Democrats, it seems, are disillusioned about the fact that some local elected officials carrying the party banner are not living up to the high ideals which they believe membership in the party to represent. "True" Democrats, they suggest, inherently pursue the common good, a la Thomas Jefferson. Republican enthusiasts, on the other hand, argue that it is the party of Lincoln which occupies the high moral ground in the political landscape, and that they are the ones who truly have the public welfare in mind. Who is right?

I believe that the answer to this question lies somewhere between the two extremes. The problem with this debate, as I see it, is largely a matter of context and semantics. The two major political parties are so pervasive that we are all bound to have had numerous personal experiences with them that shape our view of each party as a whole. Some of us were raised to believe that the Democratic Party is superior, in that its members are generally selfless individuals who care about nothing more than the common weal. Others of us, raised in Republican homes, have been taught that the Republican vision is one that cherishes personal freedom, responsibility, independence and industry.

Depending upon the personal experiences that we each have had, we begin to believe that one party or the other is truly more concerned with the welfare of the citizenry. As it turns out, both versions of the story have been somewhat romanticized.

The truth is that, particularly on the local level, there are genuine, caring individuals who belong to both parties. Unfortunately, there are also miscreants in each who are out for personal glorification and gain. It is especially disheartening to us when we find that a member of the party with which we personally identify is, in fact, one of the aforementioned miscreants.

ELEVATION OF FORM OVER SUBSTANCE: I don't mean to suggest that there are no general philosophical differences between the two parties. Clearly, there are. Especially on the local level, however, those differences are usually not germane to the task at hand. Too much importance, I submit, is placed upon labels. We frequently allow form to be elevated over substance. Office holders are given a safety net, and are too often able to maintain a level of comfort and complacency by virtue of their political affiliation alone.

I must admit that I have become skeptical about a process that seems to require unwavering support from our candidates for one platform or the other. The major parties have become too large, too powerful, and too money-driven. I am much more concerned with with the ideas and ideals that a candidate represents than his or her political affiliation. In this vein, I think that it is rather unfortunate that the two major parties maintain such a stranglehold over the political process. Could it be that someone from a third party--or perhaps no party at all--might have the best ideas?

Some may find it surprising that I am taking this stance, since I was, for some years, a member of the central committee of one of the two major parties in Floyd County. That was a very rewarding experience, and in no way do I intend for my current comments to be seen as a sign of disrespect or contempt for those with whom I worked while in that capacity. To the contrary, I found the overwhelming majority of candidates and party members to be genuinely caring, concerned individuals who were primarily seeking the betterment of the community. I have discovered, however, that my sense of self will not allow me to be limited to one political dogma. I no longer believe that there is such a thing as an "ideal" Democrat or Republican.

Ideas. Enthusiasm. Openness. Fairness. Commitment to constitutional principles. These are the things that really matter.

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