A man for whom I have great respect sorta sideways called me a Republican the other day. I get this every now and then, as the Democratic Party to which I have belonged for decades continues to drift—not just to the left, but also sometimes in a yz direction on the coordinates, toward a place where the air is thin, and it's easy to become disoriented.
It's trite to say, "I haven't changed; my party has." I still believe in the things that most Democrats fought for during my formative years—civil rights, people before profits, the power of unions, equality for women and the vital importance of a strong and healthy middle class to a free and democratic society. But to claim that I have stood firm upon a pedestal of rightness while the Democratic Party floated on by is disingenuous. Change is inevitable, and those who resist it at all costs relegate themselves to the scrapheap of history.
Certainly, Lyndon Johnson, one of the two or three most important Democrats of all time, changed, transforming himself from a rural Texas clod-kicker into an irresistible force who, through verbal persuasion and a whole lot of arm-twisting, ramrodded civil rights legislation through Congress, knowing full well that he would lose the South to the Republicans in the process.
I have changed (or, perhaps more correctly, grown) politically over the years. For example, I (and most others) now have an understanding of the need for equal rights for gay Americans, a platform item that wasn't part of any Democratic agenda back when I was a kid. However, at the same time, I readily admit that I haven't signed on to every crackpot notion that has come down the pike, and for this, my Democratic purity has been called into question on several different occasions over the years.
I watched in horror as my party ceded (without even a whimper) the concepts of personal responsibility and "family values" to the GOP, an insane abdication that saddled us with Ronald Reagan, two George Bushes and decades of Republican Senates and/or Houses. It basically cost America a generation of progressive and prudent leadership. It got so bad that for a while, there were only a handful of us who would even own up to the label "liberal."
The national GOP is currently waging a very public internal battle over what constitutes a "real" Republican, and how many boxes on the checklist must be marked to establish one's bona fides. Apparently, some nominal Dems think I need to do the same.
I asked the guy why he said what he had said, and his reply was that I had been going after the Tucson City Council pretty hard for the past couple of months. This struck me as odd, because where (and when) I came from, you always held your friends to higher standards than you did your opposition. Likewise, I expect members of my own party to do things better, smarter and more efficiently than the Republicans would do.
Imagine having been a lifelong Republican and swimming upstream for so many years, until getting to the early 2000s, when your party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Then imagine watching your fellow Republicans squander a budget surplus, wander into a dumb war and then turn a blind eye as the economy is gutted through a concerted effort of runaway greed and a willful lack of any oversight whatsoever. I'd be livid.
Likewise, when I see a City Council consisting of nothing but Democrats, I expect at the very least high competence, and I hope for greatness. Instead, we get $800,000 videos that my son could have done for a hundred bucks, and near-million-dollar payouts to developers, because nobody on either side felt like doing anything for six months.
It's pretty embarrassing. If you Google "screwups," the Tucson City Council would be the third search result, right behind the Italian Army and Mark Sanford's travel agent.
As for writing about the council's misadventures, I asked the guy, "What would Chris Limberis be doing with this council?" Chris, who's been gone for more than three years, was one of the all-time-great investigative journalists. I never knew Chris' politics, or if he even had any. All I knew was that he went after the story and got it.
If he were alive today, he'd be having a field day. We'd know about the council member who got his credit card cancelled. We'd have insight into the wink-and-nod recusals that stave off charges of conflict of interest. And we'd have a clear picture of the inner workings of the bumblefest that has led Tucson to its current predicament(s).
It's all pretty much moot now. The dolts in the state Legislature bullied through a measure that will change the way Tucson elects its City Council. Assuming the measure is signed by the governor, there won't be any 6-0 breakdowns by party, or any party breakdowns at all. Voter turnout will be abysmal, and money will rule the day.
But on the bright side, if I ever again go after someone on the council, it will be for strictly nonpartisan incompetence, and my Democratic pedigree will be unassailable.