Why I Don’t Generally Vote Republican in the South

It’s election season — as if you could have missed it. I’ll most likely be voting something close to a straight Democratic ticket on the local and statewide races, which is pretty much my default strategy here. I’ll be voting for Barack Obama as well, but that’s for different reasons that I may talk about later. Or not.

I’ve lived in two very culturally distinct regions of the United States, and my political choices have always been a reflection of (or perhaps a reaction to) this geography. I moved steadily to the left of “mainstream” through my years in the south, and moved rather decisively to the right of it when I was in San Francisco. I don’t think either migration necessarily means that I’m a “centrist” at heart nor does it reflect any radical shift in my political values over time.

Ultimately, I’d call myself a “pragmatic libertarian” in philosophy. Mind you, this is not to say that I support the Libertarian Party, a group of anti-government zealots  which has almost nothing to do with libertarian philosophy, as evidenced by their choice of Bob Barr to lead the ticket this year, among other shining inconsistencies. Unlike the capitalized Libertarians I don’t believe that the government should be abolished nor that taxation should be eliminated. I merely believe it should follow the most non-invasive and minimalistic course of action that is feasible and realistic. A good example is community college funding. I’m a big supporter, because a reasonable investment in education now saves what will eventually a much bigger investment in cleaning up the effects of a lack of education. Call it government by preventative mantenance — or maybe governement by cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, I question whether the government should be in the business of regulating, rewarding, or penalizing what should be private contracts or individual decisions  (e.g. marriage, bearing children, home ownership, etc.)

In California, it was sometimes easy for me to reconcile voting for Republicans because western Republicans, particularly urban coastal ones, often come from this intellectual tradition, or at least from a similar one. Even John McCain used to be accused of it before that scary stranger inhabited his body. Many of them started out with an assumption and a foundation of equal rights for all individuals (social libertarianism, if you will) onto which they built a level of more fiscally conservative or pro-business policies. Again, it was a largely intellectual process that reflected a consistency of reasoning with which I did not always agree, but one that I could usually respect. Of course, this is not the case with all western Republicans, and I still found myself siding (sometimes reluctantly) with Democrats as often as not in California, but this sort of  approach is much more common west of the Rockies.

In the south, however, most Republicans seem to lack that intellectual aspect (maybe it involves too many shades of grey) and are coming more from an ideological tradition — specifically a fundamentalist Christian-derived ideology. For many, I suspect, it’s more a case of “knowing their audience” than an indicator of any specific conviction (Elizabeth Dole, in particular, strikes me as just such a performer), but the end result is a inconsistent ideology of less government — except when it comes to sex, or profanity on TV, or flag burning, or religious diversity, or other things that are “inconsistent with North Carolina values.” In these cases, the same Republicans who want government out of our everyday lives are far too willing to make exceptions, citing God, family values and norms, or whatever other excuses they can concoct. I have no respect for parroted ideology; there is no critical thinking going on here, only memorization of random Bible verses and glib soundbites.

Southern Democrats, mind you, are only somewhat less offensive, but they at least tend to pay lip service to the concept of social diversity and to skip the more blatantly race-baiting and gay-baiting tactics of their Republican counterparts. In fact, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress from my district is actually an avowed supporter of same-sex marriage, which is considerably further than Democrats are willing to go, even in California. Barring any other realistic option, these southern Democrats, mixed bag that they are, generally get my support, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.