Election Season: Party, Person, and IssuesDecember 31, 2007
Choosing a candidate for any office is a very personal decision and each of us goes about it differently. Sometimes, it's nothing more than which political party does he or she belong to. In other cases, especially if you happen to live in Iowa or New Hampshire, it's determined by your personal interaction with the candidate.
I wouldn't call myself an issues voter, which to me is one of the three main factors that affect how someone will vote. Is your vote determined primarily by party, person, or issues? In my early 20's, I considered myself a Republican, even to the point of making a small contribution which led to nearly five years of fundraising letters. Even though I've never voted for a Democrat, I now call myself an independent, so party is not a critical piece.
On issues, I remain generally conservative in the Reagan and Wall Street Journal editorial page sense. I find myself agreeing with most things written by Peggy Noonan and Bill Kristol (of the Weekly Standard and now, incredibly, the New York Times). But I have certainly become more of a moderate over time, mixing conservatism with bits of libertarian and liberal elements. If we were honest, we'd admit that most of the time our votes are motivated by frustration, and my frustration has increasingly been with both parties and that nebulous entity called Washington that seems so profoundly dysfunctional.
So, the deciding factor for me is often the person. This is where the Republican party has been so disappointing. In the last 12 years, there are have been so few national leaders that are truly dynamic, honorable, and inspiring. I tend to agree with Republican positions, but the way they are framed, the tactics used, and the people championing them make it hard to be enthusiastic. The endless personal (corruption, sex scandal, and family failures) and political hypocrisy (we're for limited government, reduced spending, and reform, except for when we're in power) doesn't help either. President Bush campaigned on being an open, bipartisan leader and though the Democrats certainly didn't help, he slowly succumbed to being satisfied with appealing to a smaller and smaller portion of his supporters.
This approach has infected the entire party (and to be fair, you see the same obsession with the base by the Democrats). Remember "Reagan Democrats"? Other than John McCain and maybe Rudy Giuliani, is there a national Republican who acts like they even want a Democrat or independent's vote? How about Hispanics and African-Americans? I thought it was pathetic when Democratic candidates refused to participate in a Fox News debate (let's see, you'll meet with Hugo Chavez but not Brit Hume?), but worse was the major Republican candidates skipping a PBS debate focusing on minority issues.
Looking toward the next president, most conservatives and Republicans I talk to still believe in the ideas and principles of the party, but wonder why we can't have a leader who makes the best case for them, who can sell them vigorously to the country, and lead and inspire the whole country.
I don't have a litmus test for candidates and simply answering correctly to a multiple choice list of issues doesn't determine my vote. I'm looking for a leader I can truly respect, whose judgement I can trust, and who will lead the entire country in a way that will bring us together to tackle big problems in a new way.
Next up, a look at the major candidates.