I Vote the Party, Not the Man
It's an interesting time to be involved in politics in Wakefield.
Two men with local roots - and strong, loyal, local support - are candidates for seats in the U.S. House and Senate. One could tip the balance of party control in the U.S. Senate.
Meantime our former Governor is vying for the most powerful public office in the land. His national campaign headquarters in Boston is just a short T ride away.
All three candidates - Richard Tisei, Scott Brown, and Mitt Romney - have established reputations as thoughtful moderates, willing to cross party lines to accomplish legislative goals. Tisei and Brown are eminently likable fellows - the type I'd probably seek out at a family cookout or cocktail party as the kind of guy I could talk to about the Patriots, Springsteen, or the joys of home ownership.
So many of my Wakefield friends seem puzzled when they ask me: Why don't you support any of them?
My answer is simple: They are Republicans, and I am a Democrat.
I realize it's not particularly popular to say that these days, our Commonwealth's reputation as the bluest of states notwithstanding.
The fact is party politics is a dying craft. Fewer and fewer Americans identify as Democrat or Republican. Younger generations are far more likely to register as unenrolled than mine, just as my generation is more independent than that of my father’s. No wonder. As a friend reminded me recently, partisanship has become synonymous with gridlock.
But parties are a fact of political life, whether we like them or not. The great American historian Gary Wills put it well in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, when he chastised a liberal friend for abandoning support for the President:
"Obama was never a prince. None of them are," he wrote. "The mistake behind all this is a misguided high-mindedness that boasts, 'I vote for the man, not the party.' This momentarily lifts the hot-air balloon of self-esteem by divorcing the speaker from political taintedness and compromise. But the man being voted for, no matter what he says, dances with the party that brought him, dependent on its support, resources, and clientele. That is why one should always vote on the party, instead of the candidate. The party has some continuity of commitment, no matter how compromised. What you are really voting for is the party’s constituency."
This, I believe, is the hard truth behind all democratic elections. It's a tough one for those of us who value our independence to swallow.
Parties are vehicles for putting ideas into action. And ideas that drive public policy matter a great deal to millions of people at the margins of society - the poor, the sick, the unemployed. They matter to our soldiers and our veterans, to women, to our seniors, and to our schoolchildren.
And I believe that for every one of those groups, Democratic ideas are better than Republican ones. By contrast, when I read the GOP platform, I don't see myself, my community, or my values reflected there.
So might the election of a Richard Tisei, Scott Brown, or Mitt Romney temper the current Republican extremism and move the GOP to the center? Sure.
But I'm not taking that chance.
Fred Rich LaRiccia
Member, Wakefield Democratic Town Committee