I'm not quite the Democrat I once was. As my single, city-dwelling 20s have given way to my settled, suburban driveway-and-a-dog mid-30s, my views concerning fiscal policies especially have become gradually more conservative. In hindsight, the needle had nowhere to go but right.
I'm told this sort of creeping conservatism is common. As we grow older we earn more money and, naturally, become more discerning about exactly what is being bankrolled by the increasingly large chunks deducted from our paychecks. And as we gain life experience, we become less naïve and, on a counterbalancing curve, more cynical. Most of us join a struggling middle class declared the backbone of a nation whose tax code, paradoxically, seems hellbent on breaking said back.
My changed perceptions are mild yet marked. For example, though I still see the value in -- and certainly the need for -- the continuation and mild expansion of social safety net programs, I don't agree with the indefinite extension of unemployment benefits, especially without riders such as meaningful training programs to help the long-term unemployed collect skills while they collect my hard-earned tax dollars. I am similarly wary of overly cushy public sector union pensions; oftentimes, cities and states simply can't afford all facets of these established institutions and, amidst a sluggish economic recovery, everyone needs a haircut.
Ten years ago, I undoubtedly would have been on the opposite sides of both issues. Score two for the GOP.
My demographic checklist is even more politically suspicious. White. Male. Married. Suburban. Upper-middle class household income. On paper, I am someone who just a few years ago would raise a red flag among Democratic pollsters and, to their Republican counterparts, would seem ripe for regime change.
But today, that same Democratic booster could extinguish any worries about me switching teams by asking a few simple questions.
"Are you a racist, a sexist, a homophobe and a bigot?"
"Do you believe in science?"
"Are you completely divorced from reality?"
In other words, they could ask, do I consider myself a reasonable adult? If I do, the chances of losing me to the GOP are exactly zero percent. Because any mild misgivings I have about Democratic fiscal policy are rendered irrelevant by the Republican Party's embrace of intolerance and ignorance.
No lifelong Democrat, I would venture, is going to suddenly start siding with those that discriminate against gays, immigrants and women -- and dismiss proven scientific facts like climate change and evolution -- in order to fight for marginally sounder economic policies. In that situation, the means dramatically outweigh the ends, resulting in a no-brainer nonstarter.
And never mind joining them; we Democrats can't even have that discussion with our Republican counterparts because, en route to a spirited debate about budgetary jurisprudence, we encountered a fist-shaking mouth-breather wearing a stylish red, white & blue tricorn cap. We couldn't make out everything he said -- perfect diction is difficult to achieve with a less-than-complete compliment of teeth -- but we definitely heard a "f*ggot," a "wetback" and more than a few "Jesus"es in there.
Indeed, the last time a Tea Party produced a turncoat was the mid-1770s.
The Newly Disengaged Democrat
Barack Obama's second term has born little resemblance to his first. Gone are the days when the President - amiable to a fault, many liberals argued - made seemingly sincere attempts to seek economic compromises with Republican lawmakers, such as offering entitlement reforms in exchange for revenue generators like closing tax loopholes. We haven't heard much about Oval Office lunches with Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan these days, and it's a safe bet that the dualing cigarettes chain-smoked during late-night sessions with John Boehner - an open secret during such crises as the debt ceiling showdown - have long since been extinguished.
The impetus behind the President's freshly frosted shoulder is one of plain practicality. Last summer's government shutdown - a ridiculous overplay by Republicans who, led by reckless Tea Partiers like Ted Cruz and Eric Cantor, held the nation's financial fidelity hostage in an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law passed by Congress, signed by the Chief Executive and upheld by the Supreme Court - seems to have opened Obama's eyes to the sheer impossibility of gaining meaningful concessions from the GOP via negotiations. Smartly, Obama has decided to stop rewarding childish behavior and, in the process, refused to have his remaining time in office wholly sabotaged by Tea Party temper tantrums.