Dear Mr. President,
As a small child there were a number of foods I convinced myself I didn't like. Broccoli. Pizza. Tomatoes. Really it would be faster to list the foods I did eat than those I didn't. It took me years of insisting I didn't care for a variety of foods I'd actually never tried before I finally began to question this mindset and experiment. While I gradually grew to like many of the kinds of food I'd convinced myself never to try, I've held out on certain things. Tonight I finally tried bubble tea, a drink that most people in this city love and that I've long insisted not to like. It was absolutely delicious. (If my best friend is reading this I am in so much trouble.) Every time this happens to me I have the disconcerting experience of questioning my other long-held beliefs. My friend who changed my mind on bubble tea is also married. What if this means I might like that, too?
So while I've been thinking most of the night about all of the things I've convinced myself I don't like or that I can't do, changing my party affiliation would have to top the list. I could no sooner identify as a Republican than I could wake up tomorrow with normal sized hands. When I read Arlen Specter's farewell speech I chuckled at his characterization of the tea party insurgency as "sophisticated cannibalism" but I couldn't get my head around the idea of an ideology that could sway so easily from Republican to Democrat. I'm so fiercely and consistently liberal that I just can't conceive of such contradictory ideas being contained in the same mind. But, if I can't identify as a Republican, must that also mean I could never compromise with one, work together with one, or even hold a rational conversation with one? I don't think it must, but I do see how the labels make this difficult. I've certainly heard (and parroted) the comparison of primary politics to cannibalism before today. I'm not sure if I'm more sympathetic to the party-purist cannibals calling for more partisanship or the centrists like Mr. Specter decrying it. Centrism and caution certainly have a role to play, but with voters increasingly frustrated with congress' inability to get anything done, I'm not surprised that more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans are gnawing at the bones of their compromising incumbents. But who is to say what is liberal or conservative enough? Who is to say if this enthusiasm for either extreme is actually a hinderance to progress and change in the way it polarizes those who govern us together?
As you can tell, the revelation that I like bubble tea has really shaken me up. I'm not sure I'm really sure about anything any more. Perhaps this state, this rejection of certainty and reexamination of opinions based on new information is really what we should look for in candidates. The more I learn about our political system, the more I wish we could do away with political parties all together. I think that the party system engenders laziness in the electorate, who no longer have to discover for themselves where a candidate stands, but can decide votes based on the parenthetical letter after a candidate's name. I think it also creates a falsely combative state, implying that the Senate and House have 2 (or, generously, 3) competing opinions rather than 535. That an allegiance to party is more important for funding and re-election than an allegiance to voters or even to a politician's personal views. For example, the Republicans holding up health care funding for 9/11 first responders aren't answering questions about why, and I think that's probably because "the party leadership told us to" doesn't spin well as justification. The party system encourages this, and each side's talking-point explanations sound more and more like my own childish insistence that I hated things I'd never even tried.
Maybe getting rid of political parties wouldn't rid us of extremists, but I think it would encourage honesty (and courage) in a system sorely lacking it. What do you think? How could our system be improved to ensure that public servants (most of whom I believe to be well-intentioned) are better able to serve the people? You've been accused of extreme centrism and unforgivable liberalism (often for the same position.) Does your identity as a Democrat compel you to support or oppose issue you might not personally? Would you rather be seen as an ineffective centrist or an authoritarian extremist?
Thanks to Jessi for the Bubble Tea :)