I was born into a Republican family. Both my father and mother shared the same ideology. I am not certain how my father found his political party, whether it was by decision or heredity, but he was a very conservative man with very conservative ideals. My mother’s family had been Republican since Abraham Lincoln. She was originally from Illinois and in fact, Abraham Lincoln had a law office in her city. He gave a very famous speech from the balcony of a building that is now a museum there. She likes to tell of the political discussions that used to happen around the dinner table between her father and her grandfather. I never questioned why she was a Republican with that sort of history.
My mother is 87 years old and those discussions took place in the 30s. That is a very different kind of Republican than those we see nowadays. There was no tea party back then. When it was created in 1854, the Republican Party, born in Wisconsin, had a narrow focus. They wanted the abolition of slavery, the kind of admirable goal that can make a person tear up if one thinks too hard about the sacrifices made in this quest. The truth is, it was the only goal of the Republican Party when it was first formed. How things have changed.
So the views of this conservative man and old guard Republican woman formed the political ideology under which I grew up. Wanting to be like my parents, I called myself a Republican, though I never paid one whit of attention to politics when I was young. When it was time to vote I would call my dad and ask, “What candidate would help you the most?” He would tell me the Republican candidate and I would vote a party ticket having done my civic duty without actually doing any of the work that should go with it.
One memorable dinner, my older brother and father had a huge blowup because the former voted for a Democrat for president. My father looked as though a knife had been plunged into his heart. His face was so red, his expression so pained, his breathing so irregular, it really did feel like my brother had harmed him in some permanent way. That incident made me decide never to go against my father when it came to politics. It wasn’t worth it.
Still, I did have to vote. During the 80’s I worked in aerospace and was told by my coworkers to vote for Reagan because our jobs depended on it. Star Wars (a missile defense system in outer space) was one of our big contracts. We also had the Space Shuttle Main Engines, the peacekeeper missile, and my favorite program, the National Aero-Space Plane (NASP). I was voting with my profession, having graduated from voting with a phone call to dad.
Then my father passed away suddenly, and my job in aerospace ended. For the first time in my life, I missed some elections. Having been forced to actually look at the candidates, I could not bring myself to vote for any more Republicans. Were they like this all along, I wondered? Had I really been voting for people who had so many programs that went against what I believed in? I was one of those people who had never met a prejudice I could like. I loved social programs, hated war, hated guns, was a feminist — in short, without knowing it, I had been a Democrat all along.
At the time, I still had a lot of affection for, if nothing else, the word “Republican.” It was my father, my mother, my younger brother, other relatives, my former coworkers, and Abraham Lincoln. I found it difficult to pull the handle for a Democrat when they had been vilified in my family for so long. I messed around, skipping a vote here, voting Green party there, but eventually there was an election too close to call, and I had to make a mark next to a D. It was freeing. I had done it and the sky had not fallen. The ghost of my father did not pummel me with disappointment and pain. Mom wasn’t happy — she told me again about Abraham Lincoln and dinner table discussions, but nowhere in those cajoling memories was there anything that connected to today’s Republican party.
Long gone are the abolitionists and Lincoln. Today’s Republicans are a shattered group of tea party extremists, hyper-controlling members of the religious right and a few conservative dinosaurs. I am proud to count myself among the liberals today. As for my mother, well, she wanted me to use an assumed name for this article so none of her friends would find out I was one of “them.” Not a chance, Mom. I am proud of my political journey because I vote for the parties as they actually are and not for something that existed close to a century ago. Besides, were Lincoln alive today, he would almost certainly be a Democrat, just like me.