Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Unifying Themes

Clarifying for my students what distinguishes the two political parties from one another but what also serves as a unifying theme for each has been a challenge. Many of my students know that at one point in time conservative points of view were affiliated with Democrats and more liberal with Republicans, which is at odds to what one often sees today.

In the past few years, I've tried to share with them what I think is the core political value of each party. Democrats tend to believe government should reflect the will of the majority. Republicans tend to believe government should protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. Neither of these standpoints are necessarily objectionable, though I do think the one I offer for the Republicans is more abstract than what most high school students want to hear. But, conveniently, it is a common thread that goes back to the Whigs and Federalists, forerunners of the Republicans.

Recently I was listening to the most recent installment of the very good podcast series on the presidents offered by the Washington Post. In that episode on William McKinley, Karl Rove was interviewed at length. He discussed how the 1896 election offered a clear mandate on a very old debate in American politics, about whether wealth is best created at the top (to then trickle down) or at the bottom, where it can rise up. That might be the enduring economic difference between the two parties.

Now if I could only find a coherent foreign policy thread for either party. Seems doubtful.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Unorthodox Unindependent

The problem with being someone who isn't necessarily partisan but who lives in a state that has closed primaries is that one has to either be an independent without a voice or affiliated asynchronously with a party and its policy positions. I was an unorthodox Republican, and as such held the following views while with that party (and still, by and large, hold them today):

  • Education funding should be more robust.
  • There's nothing inherently evil about public-sector unions. 
  • We should be welcoming to immigrants. 
  • I'm very ambivalent on capital punishment*
  • I believe it's unconstitutional to prevent same-sex couples from marrying* 
  • We may just benefit by nationalizing medical care*

Now that I'm a Democrat, though, I may as well confess to my heresies as part of this new party.

  • I don't think President Bush made the wrong decision invading Iraq in 2003
  • We should be meaningfully reforming Social Security and Medicare, in particular adopting the CPI-U-C to determine COLA adjustments 
  • Sugary drink taxes are for the birds 
  • The Supreme Court was right in its Citizens United decision 
  • The ACA unnecessarily over-reaches on social issues, in particular its policies regarding birth control prescriptions 
  • I question the propriety of funding Planned Parenthood with taxpayer dollars  

At some point I'll get kicked out of this party, too. But in the meanwhile, maybe I can stir up some moderate change. Oh boy, doesn't that sound exciting.

*Relatively recent policy changes

Monday, June 13, 2016

Retreating into Summer

Another school year ends. This one ends on a quiet, humble note. I struggled to balance elements of my work this spring. And though I'm proud of how I made myself more available as a father and supportive colleague, I've done a poorer job at managing the behind-the-scenes elements of teaching. I feel like I've had a hard time, also, managing the balance between preparing my students for big assessments vs. convincing them of the "so what" merits of the discipline I teach. I also struggled, more than I wish, with balancing the need to be approachable vs. being an authority figure. 

Simultaneously, I've seen my political feelings and affiliations change a lot over the last year. 

So though much has happened in my life that makes me happy (family, friends, faith, in short) I find that I've had fewer days where the impulse to write was there. Perhaps the summer will see the return of that impulse. Surely it will on my other blog, where I muse about my time as a dad in the summers. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016


I switched my voter registration Wednesday after a day of reflection. As soon as the Montgomery County Board of Elections receives the information I'll be a Democrat after 22 years of being registered Republican.

Blue for my new party's color. Blue for my mood (I'm sad about it). Blue for the color of the Dallas Cowboys, whose jersey I feel like I just donned. I guess it isn't that bad. I guess.

My switch came after a day of reflection about what Mr. Trump's victory in Indiana had meant. I had resolved that if he were made the nominee at the convention, I'd switch. I decided to beat the rush and switch now.

Back to the blue feeling. I'm dismayed because I grew up associating good things with the Republicans. My first presidents that I remember were Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, an optimist followed by a decent man and statesman. The presumptive nominee is neither, and the mood propelling his nomination is neither optimistic or decent. Truth be told, though, I couldn't vote for Senator Cruz, either, and I've become increasingly out of step with the party's ideas, most intensely at the state and local level.

So I need to assign blame to those responsible for soiling the party for which I rooted and supported for more than two decades. In order of culpability:

1) Congressional Republicans who mistook blind obstructionism for responsible governance.

2) Mr. Trump, for selfishly employing rhetoric that appeals to the American population's more base instincts.

3) President Obama for missing opportunities to meet his opposition half way and thus neutralize the impulses behind reason #1.

4) Voters like me for not looking at the long-run picture from 2009 to the present in our electoral decisions.

So, go blue. It's weird to think I'll be supporting the Clinton candidacy given how much I resented the tone and legislation of her husband's administration in the 1990s. Life changes. Elections have consequences. I'll sleep much more easily with the consequences of a Democratic victory this November.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Elections have consequences

Here's a shocking headline from a nearby community:

New Hope-Solebury is one of the most affluent areas in the whole state of Pennsylvania. It has one of the highest median incomes, one of the highest rates of educational attainment, one of the highest average home values. That their board has to consider charging students a fee to merely attend school should shame the voters those board members represent. The money exists in this district to fund what the students need. The community has simply chosen not to do so.

This Difficult Election

I'll likely be changing my registration after the April primary election in Pennsylvania. I have been a Republican since first registering to vote in 1994. After I get the chance to cast my ballot for the primary, I'll likely have to leave the party, and become one of the somewhat rare Americans who switch their party affiliation. I'll become a Democrat. Somewhere, the 1993 arch-conservative version of Chris Johnson is shuddering.

What's prompting this change? The likely nomination of businessman Donald Trump. He doesn't possess the temperament, ethics, or grounding in public sector to be deserving of the presidency. And, if he is the nominee of the Republican Party, then the party's values are too incongruous with my own.

This is hard to do. Few Americans stray to the other party from where they were brought up. I was brought up in a Republican household. And I'm proud of that background. I'm proud to have been a member of the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Reagan. But now I must cross to the other tribe. In part this is necessary because of Pennsylvania's closed primary system: I take the democratic process too seriously to forfeit my chance to choose nominees, which I'd be doing if I were independent. More importantly, I must do this to make my protest of Mr. Trump as nominee more complete. If he's the party's nominee for the President of the United States, then I cannot be a member of the party. It's as simple as that.

Both of our political parties have their flaws. Democrats tend to underestimate the true costs of their desired policies. They also tend to overestimate the benefits of their desired policies. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to exaggerate the threat posed by liberal ideas and are a bit too quick to dismiss the benefits that come from government involvement in the economy. Regardless of the party I join, these flaws remain.

The Republican party has been making me feel more unwelcome, though, in the past few years. I don't share the fear many in the party have of illegal immigration. I'm a member of a public sector union, which many in the party see as a great threat to the nation's economic and political fabric. I'm a public school teacher and a fan of school funding, which it seems the Republicans (and many Democrats, too) seem to be against. Further, the party seems to have moved on from the assertive foreign policy ideology of the Reagan era and seems to be embracing something more akin to isolationism, which bothers me greatly.

Truthfully, there's a lot to dislike about both parties and their candidates for president. No candidate is speaking seriously about entitlement reform. Any discussion of the national debt has disappeared. There's little talk of how we could use tax dollars to fund schools or build infrastructure, endeavors which can enhance long run economic growth. No candidate is putting forth a very optimistic or ambitious set of ideas about what America can do to better the world.

And I'm no big fan of our current president. Though he's a decent man, I'm dismayed at the scolding tone he too often takes on social and economic issues. I'm disheartened at the passive and pessimistic approach he takes to foreign policy. His reliance on drones to assert U.S. power abroad concerns me. That being said, he's a decent man.

Mr. Trump is not. And I can't put much trust in Senator Cruz whose zealousness in pursuing Constitutional values (not in and of itself a bad thing) has seen him engage in some destructive parliamentary tactics as a Senator. I'm left with Governor Kasich who, as a moderate, doesn't stand much of a chance.

Moderates like me don't have much of a choice.

Pennsylvania's primary election is in late April. I look forward to voting in it, and casting a vote against a man I think wholly unsuited to be President of this great nation. But once that vote is cast, and once the nomination is settled in his favor, it's time for me to go. The party of Lincoln might be high-jacked (hopefully for just one election cycle) by someone with the temperament of George Wallace, and that'll make me retreat to a party that offers me a less horrifying idea of what it means to be an American.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Taking Flight

My children came home from school on a Friday following a long week in a long string of weeks uninterrupted by weather or vacation. Normally, this is the time of year a parent is hoping their kid will limp over the informal finish line that separates winter from spring, when attitudes and effort usually regroup for the end stretch to summer. I remember having to help Sam navigate frustrating passages at the end of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. But this year it's quiet.

Except for the sound of two happy kids. They're finding their niches, and it's neat to see.

Caroline thrives at school.

Sam is starting to find some real gifts in the way of writing.

And Sam's happiest moment of the school day? Getting to practice in an ensemble for the first time that featured strings, winds, and percussion. He was thrilled at the chance to play with a whole symphony ensemble.

I'm truly living the Goldilocks phase of parenting.