At an event I was at recently, someone posed the question "What does Independent Democrat mean, anyway?"
I launched into a brief discussion of how beliefs and political parties no longer align well with what many people I run into believe. There are fiscal conservatives in both parties, those who believe in broader and narrower scope for government action in both parties, and those who believe in fundamental liberties in both parties. There are many who believe in fiscal responsibility coupled with government actions enhancing opportunity. There is a focus on "one side" or the "other side" winning, not how we solve the problems we face together.
As I reflected later, however, I'm not sure that I really answered the question in a meaningful way. What do I mean when I label myself as an "Independent Democrat" in this campaign?
For me, being an Independent Democrat has several components.
First is "independent." By this I mean that party loyalty does not supersede decision making on the basis of my principles and values, articulated in my First Principles. Too much of our current problem in Congress is caused by a system that rewards going along to get along. If elected, I will vote and act based on the principles and values I articulate, and seek to work toward constructive solutions to the many problems we face, with whomever will work with me toward solving those problems. We're all in this together; when one side or the other "wins" through oppositional political gamesmanship, we as a people lose.
Second, however, is a recognition that group action is a necessary part of our political process, and that parties are a part of that process.
I have been a Democrat for as long as I can remember, but that is not why I am so now. I remember my parents talking of how they had voted for Nixon in the 1960 election. During the 1960's however, they came to realize as the civil rights movement came to fruition and action was taken to reduce poverty, creating a more level playing field for all Americans, that their Christian values called them to seek social justice, including through political action, and that the Democratic party was aligned with such action.
My understanding of history, economics, and law leads me to the conclusion that those leading the Republican party (certainly including my opponent) have become the party that asserts that government should be minimized, except when required to assist the most fortunate among us. This is certainly not the party of Eisenhower, that understood that the mission of government, while limited, was to make possible a better society for all Americans. In addition, they espouse many positions that seek government actions to enforce choices about how people should live, particularly based upon religious beliefs, in opposition to the essential tolerance and fundamental freedoms, including the separation of church and state, that make America unique. While, as discussed below, in many ways I have beliefs aligned with the stated beliefs of the traditional Republican party, the foregoing preclude alignment with the Republican party.
The Democratic party more nearly accords with my understanding of the proper role of government, within the scope of appropriate government I articulate in my First Principles. First, to create a level playing field providing the opportunity for all Americans to succeed and reach their full capacity, no matter their fortunes of birth or social position when they begin. Second, to provide a social safety net, so those who no fault of their own are unable to provide for themselves are not left behind.
Of course, the alignment is not complete, thus the "independent." I believe the least government consistent with a civil society is the best government. I believe in federalism and limited federal government action – many issues have been addressed at the federal level that should have been left to state and local governments. I believe there is no such thing as a free lunch, that everyone should pay their share of what we need to do through government, and that except in extraordinary times we should not borrow money to pay for what we need to do, instead imposing appropriate taxes that fully meet needed expenditures and amortize past debt. I believe unequivocally in all the liberties affirmed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and that these are a matter of necessity for a free people, no matter how inconvenient they may seem from time to time; they are what makes us who and what we are as a people.
Next time the question arises, I'll have a better answer.