There is no party for the modern Millennial

The Washington Post has this story about shifting political attitudes in parties, especially under 30’s. Like I wrote earlier, this sort of stuff happens as the country changes and the parties are slow to adapt. Often the other is the beneficiary, but sometimes, like now, neither party wins all the spoils.

If I had to plot my political attitudes on a graph I’m not sure I could do it. If I did, it’d come out as what we’d currently describe as an “Independent”, and I have a voting record that would back that up. I’ve voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarian candidates in a lot of races.

The thing that bothers me about the whole experience is I want to feel comfortable in a party. I’ve bounced between a few party meetups and meetings, and I never understand it. Like I’ve told some close friends, “Belonging to a party today seems like a mental illness.” It’s about the feelings and not about the policy or ideas. We’re short on ideas that extend beyond “The government can do that” and “The market can do that.”

I’m heavily conflicted in a variety of ways. I’m a supporter of property rights (this goes for your body), the enforcement of those rights, and the ability for people to do with their bodies and property as they wish. But then my neighbor doesn’t clean up his lawn and it drives me nuts. Or someone smokes in front of me on the sidewalk and it blows in my face. That pisses me off.

I’m a supporter of people’s ability to further themselves and do at least 90% of the work to improve their lot in life themselves. I don’t think it’s entirely 100% within a person’s control. The government can help, it can get in the way, and does so frequently. Licensing is a good example – I see no reason why hairdressers need a license. That’s protectionism of a favored industry. But I can’t shake the fact that some people are just not wired to be able to help themselves – able-bodied or not – and something has to be done for them.

I have spent years watching Democrats run towards identity politics and be hypocritical of the most bizarre things (“Listen to scientists on global warming! Don’t listen to scientists on GMOs!”). I’ve spent years watching Republicans become the party of anti-conservatism, big-budget-busting wars and spending, and a bizarre religious infatuation that defies human decency and logic. The Libertarians are just jumping up and down trying to get noticed and still spend all their time complaining the system is rigged and how everything would be better if we just did nothing. When I ask for policy ideas, everyone comes up dry on everything. Fair or not, real or not, I’m not interested in any of that and can’t possibly put my name on such an entity.

There is no party for the modern Millennial. Urban or rural, it doesn’t matter, because the parties have distorted themselves in positions they refuse to back down from. They’re in positions of defending things no one cares about, harms others maliciously, or benefits a select special interest. A fear of being wrong, a fear of conserving but still intelligently using natural resources, a fear of bizarre social issues, an inability to do no harm and not push religious and character views, a fear of research and science, a lack of curiosity, it’s all boneheaded.

I can’t call myself a Democrat, a Republican, Socialist, or a Libertarian. I know many more people alongside me that can’t either. This inability to join up fractures the purpose of parties, which is to some extent coalesce around the least-worst candidate and keep moving forward. Republicans are still very good at this, but the country is literally on fire as they do half the time.

At the state level, I can’t shake the fact that we can’t all be in a race to the bottom. We used to accomplish so much and literally move the earth to benefit us in the present and the future. Today we can’t scrounge for change in the couch Governor’s couch cushions without a fierce call for a tax credit or spending it on some short-sighted stuff. What’s the goal? 0 taxes? No reasonable person thinks that’ll work.

There is no Independent Party (there’s one of a similar name, but it’s a bonafide hate group). Ultimately, do you want low voter turnout? Because this is how you get low voter turnout – and Trump.

Stop using the phrase “GOP”

I never use the phrase “GOP” (except now, apparently). I don’t like it because it’s not true.

The “Grand Old Party” is supposed to be the party of Lincoln and Roosevelt. But as I’ve voraciously been consuming the definitive autobiographies and books on these and other Presidents, I can’t draw a line from Lincoln to Republicans today. I could maybe have an easier time with Democrats, but it would take a wild line through and around issues of slavery.

The best theory to explain this that I can come up with is partially due to Grover Norquist, who mused in Leave Us Alone that a lot of voters vote for one party or another because their father did and their grandfather and great-grandfather before that. In other words, a lot of people vote party-line like the way children often assume the religious beliefs of their parents.

This happens everywhere but has been particularly sticky in the south. This still explains Kentucky today. When you wonder how Kentucky votes for a Democratic governor in what should be a reliably red state up and down the board, it’s because people are still voting at least partially on their family’s civil-war era tradition when Democrats were the more like the “Republicans” (by a modern definition).

My theory is the country changes, the electorate changes, but the south is always the laggard by a wide margin. And there are enough of them, plus Texas and Oklahoma, maybe Indiana, that it puts a dent in the course of the country’s leadership.

Most people have a casual understanding of the “flip” in the parties’ beliefs and core voters, mostly around the Civil War and later Nixon’s election. But for years before Nixon, to put it bluntly, many southern voters were somewhat unaware that the Democrats weren’t really the bearer of their character and beliefs anymore. Eventually, they caught up. I suspect we may be another 75 or 100 years away from another flip like that. This is a generations-long process that is altered only by death and slow, steady, change.

So when I hear the phrase “GOP”, I hear the Republicans of today taking credit for things their forefathers did under the same label but with entirely different context and pretenses. That’s offensive to early Republicans. It’s like if the producers of the Jason Bourne films said they were proud of the work they did in early James Bond films. You don’t get to take credit for that. You weren’t even there, so sit down and shut up.

As one example, Theodore Roosevelt wouldn’t recognize either party today. He could arguably be considered an independent today, and some may consider him one of his time (George Washington was our only true independent President, as he never declared a party and has been the only unanimous vote-getter in the electoral college). Roosevelt wanted big government projects in Panama and around the US. He wanted to bust up large trusts and monopolies like railroads and banks. He also wanted a big, strong, and world-dominating military. Roosevelt wasn’t keen on racial discrimination either and was the first President to welcome a black man to the White House.

Roosevelt was most proud of his achievements in civil service reform, which stopped the practice of appointing people to lush government jobs without real qualifications. He weakened the parties by stomping on their machinery in races small and large.

Trump has Roosevelt’s portrait hanging in the Oval Office and he says he admires him and Andrew Theodore most. Theordore Roosevelt was a conservative, not a Republican. He conserved nature and limited resources, was a populist and true champion of miners, coal workers, and factory workers. He had no use for big corporations running afoul of laws both real and moral. If he were alive today he’d punch Trump in the face and call him a sissy for not being able to kill a moose with his bare hands.

There’s no comparing the Republicans of today to 1950, 1910, or 1864 or the Democrats of today to 1963 and 1944. Heck, Andrew Jackson was a “Democrat”.

The Justin Harter Voter Guide to 2016

In case you were wondering who I’m voting for this year, I share my ballot choices here and the reasoning behind them. It forces me to think about my own choices by writing them down. I’ll try to do this in as short and succinct way as I can. Obviously, your ballot choices outside of eastern Marion County will differ.

Public Questions

Amending Indiana’s Constitution to grant the right to hunt, fish, and farm

I voted no. I don’t favor meddling with constitutions and we’ve nearly had 3 measures in recent memory. First among them was the property tax caps, second was barely but not quite a measure to define marriage, and now this. Like I wrote on Facebook, this is a solution in search of a problem for average Hoosiers. Hoosiers haven’t been denied the ability to hunt or fish or farm and likely won’t ever be. What this does do, however, is make it easy for this legislation’s sponsors to run with constitutional authority to build large industrial farming operations. It’s unlikely to impact me in Indianapolis, but if I lived elsewhere and some large CAFO popped up and cratered my property values, I’d be pissed. I’m voting for homeowners, home rule, and local control on this one.

The Marion County Transit Plan – a .25 increase in the income tax

I voted yes. I’m not for or against taxes on principle. I want my taxes to go to things I can at least see and use. In the funding funnel of expensive federal taxes, cheaper state taxes, and even cheaper local taxes, I wish this were inverted. There’s so much confusion about this question in particular and there’s a lot to digest with this.

For one, IndyGo’s banking on this in order to fund the operation of the Red Line rapid transit system. The construction is paid for and likely a done deal. But working within the confines of Washington’s ridiculous funding games, IndyGo has to build the system and worry about funding it later. If this fails, who knows where the money comes from in 2018. But more importantly, I see transportation funding a general win for everyone. If you don’t take the bus, fine. You get to enjoy fewer cars on the road. Neat! If you do, you can get places quicker. Our current system is a tax on people either way. Currently we tax time. We tax people’s time to drive, sit in rush hour traffic, and get to work. I’ll never vote against a measure that helps people get to work – rich or poor.

Elected Offices

President

I’ve written about this before, but I felt pretty okay with my vote for Gary Johnson. Hillary will make for a solid President. Whether she’ll be great, who knows. But in my worldview, the federal government is becoming larger than it can reasonably good at. I’m in favor of local taxation and local control. And, as a matter of health for the country, having more than “two” political parties is a good thing. My two biggest issues with Hillary: I don’t like the idea of the White House passing through families. My first memory of the presidency is of Bill Clinton. Then George W. Bush. I voted against Clinton and for Obama for this reason in 2008 and I still feel the same way.

US Representative, Indiana’s 7th District

Andre Carson vs. perennial runner-up Cat Ping and Libertarian Drew Thompson. I voted for Drew Thompson. I’ve met Drew and he struck me as well-informed, like-minded, and thoughtful. He actually introduced himself to me at an artist’s open house and we chatted for a good 20 minutes. Andre Carson will win because of his family’s name and while I don’t have a problem with him, I believe all elected office holders should have term limits. Carson is past his.

US Senate

It’s Bayh v. Young v. Brenton. This is hard. Really hard. It’s likely a two-way race between Evan Bayh and Todd Young. I voted for Evan Bayh. Which was really hard to do. But I’m not convinced Todd Young knows a dumpster fire when he sees one. He’s moved closer to Trump despite…everything. And I’m unconvinced he’s secular enough or an advocate for personal liberty for gays and lesbians. Therefore, this was my true “lesser of two evils” vote. Bayh violates my term limit rule, but I know what I’m getting with him and if I squint he’s at least been out of the Senate for a couple terms. I expect this race to be very close and thus, I voted for Bayh to ensure a vote against Young where it would presumably count the most.

Governor of Indiana

Anything tied to Mike Pence is to be shunned. Eric Holcomb is too close to Pence. He’s too religious and unlikely to move the ball forward in a progressive Republican way (like Mitch Daniels). Therefore, I’m picking John Gregg.

Ind. Supt. Of Public Instruction

Seeing as how Mike Pence dismantled much of Glenda Ritz’ authority to do anything, it’s hard to say what kind of person she really is. But I’m generally in favor of more school choices, more charters, and more competition. Therefore, I voted for Jennifer McCormick.

Ind. State Senator, Dist. 32

Aaron Freeman strikes me as a loathsome, super-conservative, religious, Pencey toad. I voted for Sara Wiley as a vote against Freeman that would presumably count a little more. Freeman is currently an Indianapolis City Councilor. The kind of dummy who asks questions he knows the answers to just to be spiteful and dickish. He sneaked in on slating for this Senate seat by one last-second vote. The seat is being vacated by 412-term Senator Pat Miller.

State Rep., Dist. 89

A vote for Cindy Kirchoffer is a vote you can feel good about. I’ve met Cindy on a few occasions and have helped knock on some doors for her. If you like sanity in your representatives, you should vote for Cindy. Here’s a fiscally smart woman who bucks her Republican party, presumably despite her own faith, in matters of women’s rights, abortion access, marriage rights, local control, and local planning.

Attorney General

Honestly, this race was so low-key I barely knew it was happening. Attorney General is important because they’re the ones that decides what to waste taxpayer money on “defending”. Judge Arredondo is running from Lake County against Curtis Hill. I don’t know much about either and encourage you to do your own research. But I do know of Judge Arredondo from years ago and found him to be a good fit for Lake County. I voted for Hill.

Judicial Retention

Speaking of judges, two Court of Appeals Judges are up for retention. I voted in favor of retention for Judges Riley and Kirsch.

Orlando, guns, and why your dog is happier

There’s this illustration that always makes me smile:

Do-you-know-why-your-dog-is-happier-than-you

I think about that little drawing more than any other cartoon with possible exception of The Simpsons. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this weekend and saw the news about Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting. The first story I read was from the NY Times. It was still early, so details were scant. It initially reported 20 dead, 40 injured. I thought of this drawing, then I thought, “It was probably a gay bar. The shooter was probably some closeted Muslim-looking guy.” Then I thought of that drawing again.

Whether it wasn’t PC for me to think that or not, that’s what I thought.

Jeremiah and I marched in Circle City Pride this weekend. If someone had told me ten years ago I’d be marching in a parade I’d have kicked them in the shin. But there I was, walking alongside a handful of other folks from the Enterprise Republicans, a group doing the daunting work of moving the rest of the Indiana Republican party on social issues. We’re Mitch Daniels types. Indiana’s a Republican state, if you hadn’t noticed. We can’t expect to move tens of thousands of voters to a whole new party to fix one really big, really bad, problem. It has to be done from within.

As we were walking along I kept seeing the faces of people in the crowd. There were a lot of confused looks and people unsure of what the hell we were doing there.

It wasn’t comfortable, to say nothing of the temperatures.

I kept running up to people and saying, “We’re not fans of Mike Pence either.” Others were playing the same riff: “Some of us understand we have to respect everyone”, or, “Not all of us are like what you think.” Ironic given the locale.

Throughout the whole parade route, the thought that someone might have a gun pointed at me crossed my mind. It’s just one of the things in my thought bubble as I was walking. You don’t go through life in Washington County as a gay teen in the early 2000’s and not think about that sort of thing.

Truth is, everyone feels hate toward some other group. I feel it on my commute when people show anger at bicyclists. I felt it in the damn Pride Parade for heaven’s sake.

This country isn’t likely to move on gun control because of a mass killing in a gay bar. If white elementary school students didn’t do it, this won’t either. Plus, we’re fighting an uphill battle against the 2nd Amendment (do you really think we can start to ratify something for the Constitution this year? Next year?).

The connection between gun laws and crime isn’t even settled. Any research showing the more gun laws a state has translates to fewer deaths isn’t even solid cause-and-effect. It could be that low gun deaths in a state just correlates to low gun owners, and low gun owners means less opposition to gun laws. It’s correlation, not causation, even though the outcome looks promising.

It’s understandable that when it comes to feelings of powerlessness, a lot of people will try to even the odds. Many do so with guns. I own a gun, but it rarely moves. But I do think about whether I’d be safer wearing it sometimes. At the very least I think I’d feel safer even if it is more likely to incite an escalation.

Regardless, like most people, I probably won’t do much different. Just file away all those thoughts for later processing like I and many others do. Just one more thing in our thought bubble.

To my urbanist and Sanders supporting friends, a word.

To my urbanist friends supporting Bernie and other government-funded solutions to problems of everyday Americans: I think I can open your eyes to something.

In my earlier post about Trump and Sanders supporters I said that in places like the Ohio Valley, government solutions seldom work because they almost never occur at a useful scale. Not since the Post Office and electricity. And thus the rise of Trump: “Why would I pay for something for someone else when we know we get nothing?”

Let’s shrink this down to a smaller area: Marion County.

Here are some perfectly valid claims, ones that many of you are highly supportive of:

  1. “Can I get some sidewalks near my home? It’s dangerous on the street without them, and at night people can’t go out without risking death.”
  2. “Can we build some trails so my spouse and I can have a place to exercise and lose weight?”
  3. “It’s getting tough to for us and the city to afford to operate a private car, and the city’s unable to maintain the roads well, how about more mass transit?”
  4. “Can we get our now 15-year old road re-surfaced? It floods a lot, too.”
  5. “Can we get more streetlights? Maybe it can help reduce crime?”

To many of my friends, these are all fantastic things that must and should be done. We’ll vote in referendums, we’ll lobby for increased funding, we’ll talk to our political leaders.

I know I have. I’ve been saying every one of those things for about 9 years now. Why such a specific number? Because that’s when I bought my house. In Marion County. 7 miles from Downtown. Just a few miles from Fountain Square and Irvington.

What do I have?

  1. No sidewalks anywhere outside my neighborhood.
  2. No trails nearby except the Pennsy Trail, which is unsafe by any means to get to on a bike from me, and appears to be on a completion time of 67 years. For most of the last 9 years it was a 1.25 mile stretch.
  3. My bus route gets “streamlined” to a 15-minute walk away from my house (it used to be right out the door), and I get to walk along a crap road that’s barely lit with a muddy, hole-ridden, chemical-stained shoulder.
  4. My arterial street hasn’t seen much beyond some quick hot-mix patches over the last 12 or 13 years. Stretches so bad people drive in the turn lanes to avoid the driving lane.
  5. Streetlights burn out and don’t get replaced, or are spaced so far apart I’m better off using my phone’s flashlight function.

What do I get told?

  1. We have a master plan for sidewalks, and we’re building it out 3 years at a time.
  2. We’re working on our master plan for trail connectivity over the next 20 years.
  3. We’re working on a new bus master transit plan with higher frequency and faster service. It’ll be great in 2021!
  4. We’re waiting for funding. It’s on the list.
  5. We’re going to replace every street light with new LED ones and put more in where they’re needed most.

Great!

Except not a single one of those things impacts me at all. And I do mean at all.

  1. The sidewalk plan has me in a tier 2 area. So expect something in about 15 years, if ever.
  2. The master plan for trails doesn’t come within 7 miles of me.
  3. The new transit plan leaves my route largely unchanged. Same 15-minute walk, same 60-minute frequency. Just some longer hours at times of night I don’t go anywhere anyway. In fact, the part of my route I care most about (Prospect, along through Fountain Square) will go away and instead carry me along English Ave. I think there’s a Dairy Queen along in there somewhere.
  4. Southeastern Ave. hasn’t been repaved in at least 13 years. In that same time Fall Creek Parkway is paved like the Speedway and Kessler, another Tier-2 road, has been resurfaced 4 times.
  5. We’ll see if Joe Hogsett lives up to his promise for more streetlights, but I’m not holding my breath.

And why am I told all those? This is where my urbanist friends have reasonable suggestions:

  1. We have to build where there’s the most demand!
  2. The trails will be great in high-density neighborhoods!
  3. Transit works best when it’s simple routes through dense places!
  4. We should have fewer roads so we can afford to maintain them!

You can see where this is going, right? You’ve chosen a set of “winners” and a lot of “losers”.

Can you imagine why a person loses faith very, very, quickly in these sorts of things? Government promises something, and doesn’t deliver. Or what it does deliver is lousy. And the reasons why are simply, “There’s just more over here.” More voters, more money, more everything. And here I sit, in a moderately dense area with nothing special. We’re not 38th street and we’re not Wanamaker.

And you want me to say, “Yes, let’s pay just a little more in taxes to cover these things!” Ok…but, do I like, get to use any of them? I’d rather not have to drive 20 minutes to Broad Ripple to use the Monon with my dog. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

This is how rural voters feel about everything. They don’t even get water. After a while, those of us who live in cities start to look really stupid for promising things to people that never come. These folks aren’t stupid. They’re literally working in their best interests because they’ve seen this movie before.

And here I am, 7 miles from the epicenter of our city, in a house I bought in Marion County to fight against suburban flight and I’m rewarded with, well, not much. Fire protection is pretty good.

So when someone comes along like Trump and says, “You know what, let’s just stop all this nonsense”, there’s some there there for a lot of people. This is why I have such a libertarian streak in me, too. It’s why I trudge along in ways no one else would. Not many of my urbanist cyclist friends would bike where I do and in the conditions I do. Not many people would put up with the walking I do. Because all I can do is what I do for everything: will it into existence. My desire to not spend money on a car is far above my desire to stay a little dryer when it rains. I’ll just wear a rain coat.

I still support all those things for Indianapolis. I just wish that after all my jumping up and down someone would at least throw me a bone. I can hear someone now saying, “Well this is good for all of Indianapolis.” Yeah, that’s nice, but it’s also sorta like saying, “What’s good for New York is good for Indianapolis.” No, it almost certainly is not. That’s patronizing and I wish you’d stop.