I grew up in a household that was very conservative and Republican, very Lutheran, in the ultra-conservative Wisconsin and Missouri Synod version of being Lutheran to which Michele Bachmann used to belong kind of family, not people like those far more numerous liberal Lutherans portrayed on A Prairie Home Companion. My parents were sufficiently politically active, mostly by donations, to hob nob with Republican governors and Congressmen and Senators occasionally, if not regularly. They were more a recognized name, known, not influential the way really big money is influential.
But the one significant way in which the Republicans of my childhood and early adult experience significantly differed from our current conservatives was that those Republicans were more fact-based, more reality based, and most importantly, for those Republicans being called a moderate, BEING moderate, was not a dirty word. Supporting organizations and agendas like those of the John Birch Society was considered extremist and even dangerous. For someone to be an extremist was a very bad thing.
A few years ago, on behalf of an organization for adoption rights in Minnesota, I agreed to go to our local caucus. The organization was sending people to ask for their support in the legislature to BOTH the Democratic and Republican caucuses. I was supposed to go to the Democratic caucus while another neighbor was going to the Republican caucus with her husband. But at the last minute, her husband couldn't go with her, so someone else went to the Democratic caucus, and we both went to the Republican one in our area. I agreed to speak for our cause, because my friend was very shy about public speaking.
I am not shy about speaking up, not in public, and obviously for those of you who read what I write here, I'm not shy about expressing myself with the written word either.
To my surprise, because of a lack of volunteers for the job preventing the caucus business from moving forward, in that earlier Republican Caucus, I ended up as Caucus Secretary, despite the fact that I considered myself an Independent, not a Republican any longer.
I did a good job, fulfilling my secretarial duties; I've done meeting minutes many times before for other organizations. This was not an unfamiliar task, and it seemed to me that for taking up the time of the caucus with a piece of business that was not Republican specific, and to engage the good will of the other attendees, this was a useful, positive contribution.
During the week before the Caucuses, in a conversation with my co-blogger Pen, he mentioned that one of his colleagues had made the statement recently that he hadn't left the Republican Party, that rather the Republican Party had LEFT HIM. I came to feel the same way, back in the 90's, the first time around for the Nut Gingrich in Congress and the so-called Moral Majority, who were neither particularly more moral than anyone else, or a majority. I disliked then what I saw as a drift into more far right extremism, and particularly I objected to the injecting of religion, specifically Christianity, into what ought to be a secular government. I became an independent, and as I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the reasoning and positions and policies -ESPECIALLY the disastrous economic and de-regulatory policies of the right, I have become increasingly a supporter of at least some more liberal positions in politics. But my roots are still my roots.
As part of a very minor protestant denomination, I had been brought up to believe that any intrusion into religious matters by government, like the so-called faith based initiative, and like that engaged in by the religious right, could as easily end up in the tyranny of religious groups could easily work against smaller groups of churches. A hypothetical example, which I now deeply regret plays into right wing Islamophobia, was that a religion like Islam, if it grew faster than Christianity - and it is growing faster, world wide - could then force THEIR religious preferences into law, into government, into our lives in ways which would make religious beliefs less autonomous. Coming as I did from an extended family that had produced over the generations a lot of Lutheran ministers, and church founders and elders, I was brought up to believe in a strong wall between church and state - a wall buttressed from the church side.
A commenter a few years ago on a conservative blog belonging to a friend of mine and my co-blogger accused me of being a traitor to my upbringing and to my conscience for no longer supporting or being active in the GOP or joining the Tea Party. I consider the Tea Party to be just another fractious faction of ill-informed and authoritarian conservatives, not a legitimate group that will improve politics. Too often they personify the worst of the conservatives, not moderates, and not sanity or fact-based views.
So, motivated by nostalgia, by a deep anger at the term 'moderate' having become a dirty word on the right, motivated by a desire to confront the factually inaccurate assertions made over and over by far too many Republicans, especially from those in elected government like my Congressman Chip (or Crash) Cravaack, and with the phrase "the Republican Party LEFT ME" firmly in mind, I decided to attend the local Republican Caucus rather than the Democratic Party or the Independence Party or the Green Party Caucus.
The chair thanked all the conservatives who turned out last night. Apparently unless you are deeply and far right conservative, you aren't thanked or welcomed.
There were only a total of 23 people for my community, and most of the meeting it was closer to 19. There were exactly two people in the room of that number younger than I am, and nearly everyone else was distinctly older than I am. I was demographically in the middle. It was a notably very white, and apparently from the comments entirely Christian, mostly protestant group of people. But then that is to be expected somewhat given the part of exurbia / rural Minnesota where I live. However, from my limited involvement in the 2010 election recount for the governor's race in the same area, I can vouch for the fact that the participants in the Democratic party spanned a greater range of ages, ethnicities and religious spectrum, and there were a lot more of them. In the recount, that figure was approximately 4 Democratic volunteers to every Republican volunteer.
We began with letters from the candidates being read, a straw poll vote (non-binding), which had an interesting break down - 2 votes for Gingrich, 5 for Ron Paul, 2 for Romney, and 11 for Santorum. I would not be surprised if this was similar across the state. But I think holding such a straw poll is meaningless, and a waste of time for both parties. In the previous event I attended where I volunteered as secretary, we also discussed the platform and individual planks, and voted on them, which we did not do at this caucus.
I had been hoping for a chance to discuss the party positions, and came armed with printout of fact checking I had done in preparation for challenging some of those positions and assumptions.
The ONLY opportunity I had to do anything other than a yay or nay vote came when the request for volunteers to be election judges came up on the agenda. The person who was our caucus chair - who was presumably elected before I arrived, the room having been moved from where I had originally been directed - asserted at moderate length that it was very important to have Republican election judges at every polling place because elections had been STOLEN so often in the past by illegal and improper 'shenanigans'. After a few minutes of this kind of factually inaccurate nonsense about our voting procedures, I raised my hand with a question.
I respectfully but firmly challenged the chair to provide the facts for his claim.
When pushed on the subject, he admitted there were none, that it was just his 'gut feeling'.
I objected, again firmly but quite pointedly, to his opinion being presented as if it were fact, rather than being identified as his opinion. He still insisted that this was true, but that he had no facts to support it, so he would assert it with the addition of the words 'in his opinion' at the end.
I pointed out that no investigation had proven any such case, and there had been ample and expensive investigations, over and over. I pointed out that Minnesota was widely held to be exemplary in how we held our elections, and that we had one of the acknowledged experts in the world, Chris Uggens, as chair of the University Department of Sociology who had made extensive studies of the subject. And I concluded with my own experience as a volunteer in the Dayton Emmer recount where I personally witnessed the meticulous, fair and accurate conduct of that election result.
The chair then asserted that well, maybe the Dayton Emmer election was okay, but the Franken Coleman race wasn't. I countered with the fact that after six months of investigation and challenge, there was effectively no significant problem with voter fraud, that the Franken Coleman race was evidence that there WASN'T that kind of voter fraud despite his suspicions. I insisted that such claims be based on actual evidence, not vague gut feelings, and then I pointed out that just last week the REPUBLICAN Secretary of State for Indiana had been convicted of multiple counts of voter fraud, perjury, and theft; so that if the Republicans were going to be accusing their political opposition of voter fraud, the Republicans better have proof first that it wasn't the Republicans who were trying to steal elections.
On every topic that came up in passing for vote, or comment, it was very clear to me that the other people in the room were what I consider to be low-information voters. They were not particularly aware of current events, and their only knowledge of issues appeared to be from highly ideological sources, not the fact checkers. Not one of my fellow Republican caucus attendees appeared to recognize the importance of fact checking what they were told, and not one of them at any time challenged the content of the caucus or what they were told there. No one else there came prepared with anything other than a pen or pencil.
There is no doubt in my mind that at least at the caucus where the primary activity was to elect delegates to the county convention and to participate in a straw poll, moderates in the Republican party were NOT represented. Moderate sadly, IS a dirty word among conservatives, and I believe that position will alienate their fellow or former Republicans like myself, like the others who I have heard express the sentiment that they were abandoned by their own party. So long as the conservatives operate on belief rather than fact, on ideology rather than objective reality, so long as they perpetuate the myths that push the buttons of their voters without regard to what is true, then the Republicans will hurt themselves, and they will hurt the rest of us.
The message conveyed at the Republican caucus was that Governor Dayton was thwarting the Republicans, and that he was therefore somehow stealing what they had accomplished. The message conveyed was that the right needed to take the Senate, and the White House. I personally doubt that so long as they are living in the world of right wing crazy land, they will probably lose the house of Representative, lose their state majority, and NOT take either the White House or the Senate. And that is as it should be, so long as they are fact averse, and promulgate policies which have been demonstrated over and over to result in national crises. Without moderates, without people who challenge them from within on the facts, what is left are a bunch of very nice, mostly old, fearful, religious white reactionaries who believe what they are told by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and who want to return to life in a fantasy world circa 1950 that never existed.
I could easily have been elected a delegate, or been an alternate. The caucus barely could produce the six delegates they were allotted, and only two alternates, instead of the required six. I did not feel that in good conscience I could represent the views of the people in that room, or that they would have been pleased to have a delegate armed with photocopies of fact checking who challenged their policies and positions and most of all, their assumptions and world view.
I AM going to volunteer to be an election judge. Not for the democrats, but as an independent.
There are few enough of us who are critical fact checkers; I think that would be the designation, since one is preferred if not required, that would best fit my mind set and totality of political experience. But the next time there is a Caucus night........I might go back to the Republican caucus, armed again with my printout of many pages of fact checks. It might help, and I don't think it can hurt, and maybe next time I won't be the only one.