How the Republican Party lost a loyal supporter.

I used to be a Republican. Back in high school, in the 1980s, I completely bought into Cold War fear-mongering and believed that the United States needed a new kind of leadership. My parents talked about the type of Democrats there had been during the Kennedy and Johnson years and how they didn’t exist anymore in America.

During the 1970s, I waited in line at the gas stations with my father in our family car, hoping we could get enough gas to last until the next odd numbered license plate day allowed us to partially fill up once again. I had seen our country suffer heavy losses in morale during the years following the Vietnam War, and I trusted along with Mom and Dad that a charismatic candidate named Ronald Reagan would lead us to greatness once again.

In many ways, the 1980s and early 90s were a period of time when our country as a whole saw prosperity and growth. I moved out to Oklahoma in 1989 and saw first hand what a true Red State was like. Virtually everyone I knew was kind and generous in many ways. When times are good, it’s easy to support things like the arts, education and shelters. It’s not difficult to feed someone who doesn’t look or act like you, but if they believe differently, well that could cause some ripples on an otherwise steady political pond, where “our way” is right and a different way is wrong.

Then, during the 1990s, my ideology slowly began to shift. The change in my way of thinking didn’t happen suddenly. The Republican Party didn’t lose me all at once; our divorce took several years to finalize. What I began to see were a specific set of principles and priorities that manifested themselves into a belief system I could not espouse. I wasn’t recognizing the party I thought I had known in my high school days. It seemed like the party was changing. I had voted President George Herbert Bush into office with my first eligible presidential ballot, and then I voted his son into his first term, largely swayed by what was my adopted home state of Oklahoma at the time. That was the last time I voted Republican.

What initially attracted me to the Republican Party, if I’m honest, was the idea that if I worked hard enough, I could get rich. After all, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the mouthpieces of Republicans during the 90s, told me that was all I needed, and neither one of them had ever gone to college. The message I took in was that anyone could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, opportunity existed for everyone and the government was the enemy.

What I slowly began to realize as I became an adult, got married, and had children was that bootstraps don’t exist but social contracts do. Opportunity is available to those with the right connections and our government is meant to be of the people, by the people, for the people. When we make that which is beneficial to us all a societal priority, we make life better for ourselves and for everyone.

I make my living as an actor and writer. I see how important the arts are to society on a daily basis. They should receive substantial support. While there are many republicans who do support the arts, I know of very few who feel there should be support on the national level. To be a truly great and lasting civilization, the arts must be a high priority. The continued lack of support of the arts from Republicans during my 13 years in Oklahoma beat kinks into my loyalty armor. That hit me where I live; but it was more than just personal, it affected the entire community.

I also began to see a significant difference in what Republicans and Democrats value when times get tough. When the financial crisis hit, many people lost a great deal of money. Certain banks were too big to fail, and executives were allowed to continue to make obscene amounts of money when they should have been in jail. Those at the highest levels of government deemed that the lives of those at the highest levels of business should be largely unchanged, while those who had worked hard and prudently invested suffered greatly.

What struck me on an everyday level, however, was the general attitude that surfaced on social media and on the streets regarding the general population’s individual ambitions as we recovered. I didn’t recognize it during the “Me” era of the Reagan days, but it was surely there. The general attitude of the Republican was “I’ll get mine for me and my family, and you get yours” while the Democrats seemed to display an attitude of “We’ll do better as individuals if we first do better as a community.”

In the end, it all came down to what type of society I wanted to live in; one where everyone looks out for himself, or one in which we all look out for each other. Party allegiance isn’t what it used to be. Like the Democrat ideals of my parents’ early political days and the Republican worldviews of mine, party visions change with the times. The question shouldn’t be, what party do you support? It should be what kind of person do I want to be?


  1. What great words. Well done indeed! I too was a Republican because like many I grew up in a Republican family. Mine was a somewhat prominent one however, for Bob Dole is my first cousin. I grew up admiring him as a war hero, congressman, senator, vice presidential and presidential candidate like everyone in my family did. But I also believed in the values he held all those years that made him an effective senate majority leader. That is, he believed in the power of compromise and in working to do what was best for all the American people. His vote and leadership were never for sale. I’m sure he must be appalled at what he sees today. People often ask me why I now no longer call myself a republican. My standard answer is that I didn’t leave them, rather they left me, and Im sure there are many Americans out there today who feel that way. Saddens me as well.

  2. Well-done. At 65, one of the questions that is a priority for me is “What kind of world and what kind of country will be left for my son and for the sons and daughters of others.”

    Republicans bandy that line around, but only when they’re fear-mongering about the national debt. Which tells me they are far more interested in their spending cuts than in “What kind of future will we leave for our children.” Quite frankly, I don’t think they give a damn about the latter.

    Though my son is fortunate in some ways as to his financial future, I still wonder about how long our children will have to work before they can enjoy any kind of retirement. I wonder if the endless opportunities that were available for my generation—especially if you were white, as the number of opportunities fell off a cliff for people of color—but not for his will return for his children’s generation. I wonder what life will be like for him 20 years from now, when the Social Darwinism of the Kochs and their incredible underworld of monied interests has officially become the paradigm by which this country lives—and I firmly believe that is going to happen. I wonder what the ecology of the planet will be like when he is my age and when his children are my age. I wonder just how limited the freedoms I have known will be when he is my age—I firmly believe the right-wing is committed to a country which only enjoys freedom as it is defined by a semi-fascist, paranoid majority supported by a long-distorted religious viewpoint.

    I have had the best of lives. No different from any other in having had my share of troubled time and grief and worry and a bit of heartache. But the best of lives. I got to do what I wanted to do and the opportunity to do it was always there. I got to be a thinking, reflective, self-aware progressive in the Deep South without being fired or hung for it. I HAD CHOICES, which is the foundation of all freedom, and chose to work to increase the choices available to those who didn’t enjoy the white privilege that I enjoyed. I wonder if my child and his children and your children will have what we have had as defined in existential terms.

    It saddens me beyond words to say this, but I don’t think there is a chance they will.

    Hence, I not only wonder about it, I worry about it. All the time.

    I recently gave my son a piece of driftwood into which I had burned a quote from Frederick Buechner’s wonderful little novel, Godric: “Were all the death there ever was set next to life, it would scarce fill a thimble.” He looked at me like I was crazy—a possibility. I told him to put it somewhere where he would see it everyday. I hope, in the years to come, it will be something that gives him perspective on what I think is going to be a world far darker than the one in which I live.

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