Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I'm a Democrat

I know who I’m going to vote for in the upcoming election. In fact, unless something radically changes, I know that I’m going to vote for Democrats in the next election, and the one after that, and the one after that. 

This doesn’t have anything to do with debates, political ads, blogs, or any information that’s been put forth by the candidates or the parties. In fact, I’ve been avoiding the news for the last few years because watching it was simply too stressful. I couldn’t sleep because I would worry about things that were, quite frankly, out of my control. If something major happens, I find out from other people and I seek the information out. Uninformed? Maybe about the daily goings-on. But I’m also not misinformed, which is what ends up happening to people who only watch one news channel or get their information from one source. 

No, me being a Democrat goes deeper than sound bites. It’s an ideology. I was actually brought up by a white, conservative, upper middle class, Catholic family. My sisters are all Republicans, as was my dad, and my high school was 99% white. Literally. I think there were four African-American students in my graduating class. Four. 

So why do I feel so strongly and so differently from my family? I’ll try to explain in this essay. Please understand that much of what I’m writing has to do with the way I feel in my core, and therefore don’t need to be argued with. Arguing with me about whether I should have a certain opinion is like telling me I’m wrong because purple is my favorite color.

Also, just because I say I am Democrat does not mean I do not listen and try to understand candidates regarding various topics. Certainly I do not agree 100% with every Democrat on every single issue. But the Democratic way of thinking fits in with my core values.

I need to clarify that in this writing I may make some generalizations. If I say, “Democrats think” or “Republicans think” something, I do not mean that 100% of them think that. It’s a generalization. There are exceptions to every rule, and I know that. Which brings me to my first point:

Bad apples

There are bad apples in every group of people. It doesn’t matter what group. If it’s big enough to have other people forming opinions about it, there will be at least one loudmouth who ruins the image for the rest of the people. 

I’m a Humanist. That means that I don’t believe in a higher power – which makes me an Atheist -- but I do think that people have a moral and ethical obligation to be good to each other and treat other people with respect and kindness. But there are enough Atheists that belittle and ridicule religious people that they have given Atheism a bad name. In fact, being an Atheist puts me in the most hated group in America, besides rapists (yay… for us?). Of course, the loud Atheists have every right to say what they need to. It’s just not helping the image of my group. But most Atheists, like most religious people, are respectful of others’ beliefs and don’t make a big deal out of it.

African-Americans have an even rougher time. Not only are there bad apples in their group, just like any other, but they have the disadvantage of their minority status being instantly recognizable from several feet away. This means that people who are prone to negatively stereotype them will have done so before they’ve even had a chance to shake hands or say a word. At least I can keep my Atheism hidden if I choose to do so. I’ve often thought about wearing a pin that says “I’m an Atheist” every day for a year and document what happens to me, but frankly, while I’m the mother of a child young enough to not be able to defend herself, I won’t do it. I actually worry enough about her safety to take that chance. I can hardly imagine what it was like in the South in the 60s for African-Americans.

Yes, there are also bad apples in Christianity (Westboro Baptist Church, anyone?). Of course I realize that most Christians think the WBC is disgusting. In fact, some Christians may find it surprising that I, as a Humanist, agree with most of the messages in the New Testament. 

So when it comes to groups that you don’t agree with, please do not use one member of that group as a representation of the whole. If they’ve made the 24 hour news channel, chances are good that they’re a sensationalist version of that group’s opinion.

The sad thing about the bad apple concept is that the Republican bad apples tend to be those in power, be it political or business. Democrat bad apples are poor, relatively powerless individuals.

Nothing is perfect

It drives me crazy when people attack a good idea because it’s not perfect. When dealing with issues as complex as the environment, health care, education, and everything else the nation has to deal with, no solution is going to be perfect. It’s as simple as that. Is Obama’s health care act perfect? No. It’s impossible for any act to be perfect for every citizen. 

I was reading about wind power a few years ago and there was an environmental group that was against windmills being put up because some birds would get injured from flying into them. This makes me crazy. Yes, some individual birds may be killed. That’s sad, no doubt. But wind is one of the most obvious resources we have and to shoot down the idea because it’s not perfect is simply counterproductive. No, the windmill isn’t perfect, but it’s better than fossil fuels and it’s the best thing we can do right now. (Generalizing again; we have solar and geothermal and other things, but that’s not the point here.)

Is my Prius the best car for gas mileage? Well, no, because there are electric cars coming out. But it was the best when I bought it and it’s got twice the mileage of my old car. If everyone traded in their cars for hybrids it would cut down on gas consumption significantly. Would it be perfect? No. Does the production of the battery in my Prius have its own environmental considerations? Yes, it does. However, it was the best I could do at the time to cut down on my own personal carbon footprint. The point is, I did what I could. I needed a new vehicle so I chose the most energy efficient one that would suit my needs. I know someone who doesn’t recycle because she doesn’t use that many cans. Why does that make a difference? Someone else doesn’t recycle because she lives way far out in the country and they don’t offer recycling. In her case, taking a special trip to the recycling center may very well offset the benefits of the actual recycling. I don’t know in her case. But the one with the curbside recycling service? That’s just lazy. And yes, I know that in many cases not everything is recycled and it ends up in the landfill anyway. But that is improving, and this is just one example of the entire point. Remember, this concept applies as well to health care, education, and a host of other big, complicated issues.

Love and sex

Gay people are born gay. I realize that not everyone believes that. But hear me out.

Being gay is very similar to being left-handed. If you’re born left-handed, you can’t help it. Now, if you were born left-handed early in the 20th century or before, you were probably taught, not kindly, to be right-handed. For some, it worked. For others, it didn’t, or it caused years of frustration.
Being gay is the same way. If someone is born gay, they can be influenced heavily by environmental factors and their family to be straight. And some gay people live a life of misery trying to fit into the mold that their family and society wanted them to fit into. They could be married and have kids. Just like someone who was left handed may have been forced to learn to write with their right hand. 

People who think that being gay is a choice haven’t successfully put themselves in the gay person’s shoes. Why would any person choose to live a life of ridicule and bullying? Most people who are gay say they realized it around puberty. This is the same time that straight people start to notice others in a sexual and affectionate way. 

If I had been born gay and was raised in a gay-friendly home, I would be more likely to come out earlier. Being in the gay-friendly home wouldn’t have been what made me gay; being in a supportive environment would make me come out earlier.

So let’s discuss the marriage thing.

A friend once disparagingly commented that she thought gay people were “weird.” Well, fine. I think that people who find pleasure in killing animals (i.e., hunters) are weird, too. I’m not saying I wouldn’t kill an animal for food if my family depended on it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. Do I think that hunters shouldn’t be able to marry each other? Of course not.

But wait, that had nothing to do with sex, so it’s irrelevant, you say. Okay, fine. Here’s another example: furries. You know, the people who have a fetish where they dress up like animals and have sex. I think that’s kind of weird. But that doesn’t mean I have the right to say they can’t marry each other.  I really couldn’t care less whether they get married. But be certain that if someone were to propose a bill saying that furries shouldn’t be able to marry each other, I’d be as against it as I am against bills that say gay people can’t marry.

You don’t have to like the idea of two men having sex, but to say they don’t have the right to marry each other is as ill-conceived as me saying that two straight people who  are into water sports shouldn’t be able to marry each other. And news flash: gay people don’t do anything different than straight people do! 

The gay rights issue is really a human rights issue. 100 years from now, people will look back and the laws being passed that say that a marriage should only be between a man and a woman are as archaic as those saying that people of different races shouldn’t be able to marry, or women shouldn’t be able to vote.  

The environment

Climate change is a fact. If you find a scientist that says it’s not, either they’re being paid off by some big corporation or they’re looking at numbers that the rest of the scientific community have refuted.
But here’s the thing that never seems to be said: Democrats wish climate change wasn’t a problem too. 

Republicans seem to think that the Democrats want climate change to be a problem. They seem to think that liberals are all somehow profiting from the sale of wind generators and solar panels and electric cars. It’s not true! Liberals don’t want to have to do all this work to come up with clean energy resources. It’s a lot of work! I wish I could drive any car I wanted and buy anything without it having an impact on the planet. We aren’t benefitting from this at all. It’s a long, hard, scary road ahead of us. It’s just that Democrats have realized that we as humans have a huge problem that will be less of a problem the sooner we get to solving it. 

It is our job to do what we can to turn around the environment issue as quickly as possible. After seeing An Inconvenient Truth, I couldn’t sleep for a week. I wanted to write a letter to my daughter apologizing for bringing her into a world which I was fairly convinced was going to be a wreck by the time she’s an adult. That still may be true, but I know that I’m doing everything that I can to make the environment a little better. One thing I can do to save resources is to drive a fuel-efficient car. Another is to elect politicians who view the environment as a big issue. Yes, there are parties who are even more environmentally conscious than Democrats, but given the likelihood of them actually getting into office, I don’t want to waste my vote.

Health care

The health care bill isn’t perfect, I know. But at least it’s something closer to care for everyone. I have a friend who hurt her back. Her husband had a good job but he couldn’t afford the family rate for health insurance. My friend had a part time job which didn’t provide any health insurance. My friend waited, in pain, for weeks before she finally had to go to the emergency room. She lost time at work. She couldn’t do what she needed to do at home. If she had had health insurance, she could have gone to see a family practice doctor when the problem was small. Instead she was forced to wait until her pain was unbearable. She is in a program where she doesn’t have to pay more than a certain amount for an emergency room visit, so this particular issue didn’t bankrupt her, but if she had a major problem, it easily could have ruined her family’s life.

Most people have some sort of health insurance. If someone doesn’t, and they have to have emergency care, they can get it. But if they can’t afford the bill and the hospital has to pick it up, it means higher hospital costs for everyone. Higher costs means higher premiums for people paying for insurance.

Besides the cost factor, there’s the humanity factor. Call me soft, but I can’t bear the thought of someone in pain or forgoing crucial medical procedures because it might bankrupt their family. No one should die or be disabled because they can’t afford insurance.

Although I’m an Atheist, I actually agree with many of the messages in the bible. For example, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells a story about God sorting out the good people from the bad. He says to one group, “when I was sick, you healed me; when I was hungry, you gave me food.” They reply that no, they hadn’t done those things. But then Jesus says, “When you did it for anyone, no matter how poor or their lot in life, you did it for me.” What he’s saying is that your morals are set by how you treat the lowest of the low. That, in a nutshell, is Humanism. It also seems so basic to me. How are you treating your fellow humans well if you feel it’s more important to save money personally than it is to give health care to those who can’t afford it? It’s inhuman, to me. Not to mention the reciprocal benefits. Healthy people are able to work and pay taxes. Healthy people are able to learn more in schools. Healthy people benefit society. 

Yes, there may be a few bad apples that spoil it. There always will be. But the pros outweigh the cons so far on this one.

Women’s health, abortion, etc.

I get the problem that people have with abortion. I really do. The idea of destroying what is almost a baby, a potential child, is terrible. But there are few things to keep in mind.

When the egg is first fertilized, it’s no more a baby than an acorn is an oak tree. But the closer to birth you get, the less like a blob and the more like a baby it is. No one wants to kill a baby, after all.
Which is why no sane woman is going to have an abortion in the later months unless there is a dire need to. She’s just not going to do it. And the idea that women use abortion as a form of birth control is preposterous. Abortions are expensive, painful, and depressing. Condoms, the pill, and diaphragms are much cheaper and easier. 

And Planned Parenthood does way more than provide abortions. I used them as my GYN when I was in my 20s. I didn’t have a primary care provider, so PP was the only regular health care I received. Oh and the Madison clinic didn’t perform abortions. That was a different place.

Women have many reasons for having abortions. Most of them have to do with lack of money or single parenthood. I would think that if the Republicans don’t want people to be able to have abortions, they should be more willing to do things to keep people from being poor, like raising the minimum wage or providing better education or, dare I say it, health insurance. They can’t have it both ways.


I don’t claim to have total knowledge of the economic situation we’re in. But I do know this: I think that America is better off when the number of people living below the poverty line is kept to a minimum. Most people, even those in the upper classes, benefit when the entire economy is healthy. 

When I first got out of college, I had a job which involved, among other things, selling ads for a magazine. Even then I knew that more people working meant more small businesses which meant more ad sales for me, and therefore more commission. Trickle down economics seems ridiculous, even to me. It’s an excuse for the rich to get richer. Instead, the lower classes getting more money means they spend more, and it means more profits for the corporations and even the wealthier among us. Now that my household makes well over the $16,000 a year I made then, I am happy to pay more taxes. If I’m making more money, I can afford more taxes. 

After the magazine job, I started working in tech support. I made a bit more money. But after living in five different apartments I decided I was done renting and wanted to buy a house. Because my income was low enough and I was a first-time home buyer, I qualified for a WHEDA (Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority) loan. I got a government handout. Anyone who knows me knows that I worked hard, got a better job, enhanced my skills, got married and eventually bought a better house. If I had not gotten that WHEDA loan, I might not have bought a house in it that what we want for those who live below the poverty line?

Reading Atlas Shrugged is on my list, but I know enough about the book to say this: there are a lot more people who think they are John Galt than really are John Galt. I know I’m not. And tea partiers need to realize that the original tea party happened because of lack of representation. That’s simply not the case in today’s America.

Other issues

There are lots of issues I haven’t touched upon: education, foreign policy, military spending, gun rights, etc. This essay is not meant to be an all-encompassing defense of the Democrats; rather, it’s intended to explain my feelings on certain topics. Although education is important, and the state of public education is bad enough that I have elected to put my daughter into a $12,000-per-year private school, I don’t know enough about the topic to pose good arguments. The same with foreign policy and military spending (though you can probably guess that I opt for the non-violent approach first). The other topics I outlined simply are more important to me at this point in my life.


There are some things which I have a hard time reconciling when it comes to Republicans. One is that they tout local business, yet they want to spend the least amount of money so they shop at Walmart. They want government to stay out of their personal lives when it comes to guns, but they sure don’t mind it getting into people’s business regarding women’s rights, gay rights, or illegal drugs. They laud the Greatest Generation yet they refuse to make sacrifices for the good of the country. They cry, “What about the children?” yet they don’t care to work to better the environment for future generations.

So there you have it

I know this essay has not touched upon the specific actions that each candidate has taken in the past (or intends to, based on his election promises). For that, please see my friend Dan’s very thoroughly investigated essay on his blog. 

No, my intention was to explain my outlook as it applies to politics in general: treat other human beings well and with respect, and have faith in their level of intelligence. Let those who don’t deserve the respect or have the intelligence fall to the wayside; don’t neglect those in need just because of those who aren’t deserving. To sum it up, human dignity will always trump money. It’s the basis of Humanism, and it’s my outlook on life.


  1. Cheryl, this is a truly awesome post. You're my hero.

  2. you have my vote...Cheryl for president!

  3. WOW! Climate change is a scam. Have you heard about the "hide the decline emails" ?? You are too puny to make an impact on the earth. But you feel better saving the planet. I can only shake my head and wonder where is your commom sense?
    I agree every women has the right to kill her baby.