by D.J. McGuire
In reading Bruce Bartlett’s compressed autobiography-turned-advice column, I couldn’t help but feel the old supply-side economist had, for the most part, been just a few steps ahead of me. My dissolution with President Bush the Younger came a few years after his 2005 broadside against same (although I dimly recall even then considering his critique having merit), and of course, I left the Republican Party in the last year of the Obama Administration, rather than its beginning. I’ve even felt the liberation of sloughing off the political orthodoxy that comes with partisan tribalism.
Yet somehow, I was taken up short by how Bartlett chose to…well come up short of switching to the Democrats. Despite his clear antipathy to the Republican Party, he cannot bring himself to go to its opposition. He states his reasons in the Huffington Post (well after Bill Moyers).
I’ve grown to hate my former party. You’d think this would make me a prime candidate for recruitment by the Democrats. But I’m not. First, no Democrat has ever reached out to me. I am not insulted by this, only surprised. And my efforts to suggest ideas to Democrats have been uniformly rebuffed. Like the Republicans, Democrats are wary of apostates and are only receptive to those born into their church, it seems.
Of much more importance in terms of my reluctance to join the Democratic Party is that the party doesn’t really seem to stand for anything other than opposition to the GOP. Admittedly, just about everything the Republicans are doing deserves to be opposed. But the Democrats also need a positive agenda of their own.
Anyway, for the time being, I will remain an independent who is waiting for a tough, muscular Democrat with the courage of their convictions and no fear of Republicans to arise, as French President Emmanuel Macron did. He showed that being a moderate does not mean being weak, and that fear of the right is the right’s greatest strength, but one that is easily punctured.
I share Bartlett’s wishes for a “tough, muscular Democrat” who knows “that being a moderate does not mean being weak,” and lead the party to present “a positive agenda of their own.” Yet having trailed Bartlett for much of this journey, I have now passed him, and declared myself a Democrat. While Bartlett has his reasons for remaining an independent, I feel compelled to present mine for fully crossing party lines.
My decision after last year’s election, when I felt the Democrats needed some changes (particularly on economic policies). I concluded, on the morning of November 9, that Democrats would be more willing to hear advice from one of their own. While Bartlett can certainly opine from the outside, my experience with the Republican Party showed me that outsiders don’t get the attention that members do.
Unlike Bartlett, who began as an economist who got pulled into politics, I began as a political activist when I was 15 – and only decided to pursue economics as a discipline a few years later. My time in the Republican Party spanned 25 years, and included actually being a candidate for office. As such, I’m guessing I’ve been to far more party meetings and election night watch parties than Bartlett. We had a bond, my fellow Republican activists and I, one that allowed for discussions about what the party was doing and should be doing…discussions that were always discounted when an outsider was involved.
I presumed it would be the same with the Democrats. So, I made sure there was enough not to make being a Democrat too incongruous – LGBTQIA rights, immigration policy, and Syria were more than enough – and set about helping them become a party that, in my opinion, can not only defeat Trump in 2020, but govern after him.
Thus, on the first Tuesday in December, did I attend the local Democratic committee meeting for the first time in my life. Contrary to Bartlett’s observations, those “born to the church” welcomed the newcomer with open arms, and my “efforts to suggest ideas” led to a request that I join the platform committee.
Granted, being a conservative Democrat is not exactly easy (well, except when attention goes to the Republicans’ efforts to pass a health care bill) but I found that, having taken the first step, my new(-ish) party is a better fit than I’d hoped, and its longer serving members are more receptive to suggestions than Bartlett’s experiences have told him…
…which is why, unlike he, I am a Democrat.