I’ve been mulling this post since Friday.
On Friday the company held a Town Hall meeting in Charlotte to provide the latest updates on the corporate merger. I won’t say much about the meeting–in terms of information provided we received little, yet the important aspect of the meeting, the boost in morale it provided, can’t really be adequately described in words. Charlotte is a three-hour drive from Raleigh, and I offered rides to anyone who wanted to squeeze into the Beetle. Three other managers took me up on the offer, and one found another ride back once there.
On the ride back the topic of conversation turned to matters political. And one of my passengers gave the two important issues on which the 2004 Presidential election was decided in his mind–abortion and gay marriage.
Those two issues never crossed my mind. They’re not important to me, and to the extent that they are these are two issues into which I feel government shouldn’t intrude. These are private matters to the people directly affected by them. Abortion? I’m not planning on having one, thank you very much. And gay marriage? Guys don’t do anything for me, sorry. In other words, these are two issues that don’t affect me directly, nor do I anticipate that they will affect me directly in the near future. So when these issues receive airtime, when people say that these are the reasons why they voted Republican in the last election, I wonder why when there were far more important, and far more pressing, matters at play–matters like Iraq, matters like whether or not George W. Bush had done enough in his first four years to justify another four years, matters like whether or not the country was better off in 2004 than it had been four years earlier. For me, these were the issues on which the election was decided. “Moral values,” as my passenger described the issues of abortion and gay marriage, never entered my political paradigm. The issues that mattered to him mattered only in that they baffled me, and my own indifference to those issues was equally as baffling to him.
Suffice to say, in November I didn’t pull the lever (or rather, fill out the paper ballot) for George Bush. No, it was Senator Kerry who received my vote, and it sometimes still surprises me that Kerry didn’t win the election.
Yet, I don’t think of myself as a Democrat. I didn’t register a party in North Carolina, and if I had I don’t know which I’d have chosen. I usually describe myself as a Republican, proud to be part of the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, but my brand of Republicanism went out of style decades ago. Indeed, the Republican Party wouldn’t today call me a Republican–I’m white, but I’m neither a christian nor a conservative, and Republicans today tend to be all three. The labels that matter now politically aren’t so much ones of party but ones of ideology, and the parties themselves, especially the Republicans, have become regimented and hardened almost exclusively along ideological lines over the past generation, which makes a meaningful debate over the powers and responsibilites of government increasingly difficult.
I don’t know how to bridge the divide and neither, I suspect, do the parties themselves. Both are locked into mindset of solidifying the electoral base they have and rather than draw new blood into the fold with a bold vision settle for bringing just enough new voters to ensure a victory, even if it’s a miniscule one. In a winner-take-all system such as we have doing more than that may be prudent in the long-term but isn’t necessary in the short. But so long as the parties themselves speak to issues that have no resonance with the other side of the political divide the mindset gap, such as the one my passenger and I encountered head-on, will persist and bafflement will endure.