This is Part 2 of an ongoing series of diary entries depicting my change of heart from anti-gay activist and paid staffer of the National Organization for Marriage, to advocate of marriage equality. Part 1 of this story can be read here.
As a reminder, I am no longer a Republican. However, to paint the picture of what forces influenced me to take on the crusade against gay marriage, it is important for me to share with you my old Republican ideology. I don't want anyone to think that what follows is even similar to what I have evolved to believe today. That's the intent of this series - tell you the story of my conversion and in order to start that story, I have to explain what I converted from.
That fall, President Bush was reelected. I voted for him even though John Kerry chose John Edwards to be his running mate. Our voting precinct was located at the local volunteer fire department and my mother and I went together. I wasn’t sure for whom she was voting. At that point, all I could hope for was that the discussions I had with her on everything ranging from the war on terror, which Bush was for, to same-sex marriage, which he was against, were enough to convince her to vote to reelect the President. Perhaps she was humoring me or maybe she was serious but I felt confident that we didn't cancel each other’s votes out that day. It was my first time voting but it would be the last time I based my vote on foreign policy.
I strongly believed in our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wanted our military to secure and stabilize Iraq as much as I wanted them to capture Osama Bin Laden and dismantle Al-Qaeda. The ouster of Saddam Hussein, regardless of the existence or absence of weapons of mass destruction, was an important part of the overall worldview I held at the time – that it was the responsibility of the United States of America to spread freedom and democracy around the globe. This worldview was rooted more in idealism than imperialism – I did not believe in a Pax Americana, nor was I willing to impose our system of government on any unwilling people. In short, I guess the best way to sum up my worldview would be to tell you where I learned it – well, at least the underlying principles.
That brings me back to my childhood hero. My aim here not to turn these diaries into a story about Jack Kennedy but he had such an enormous impact on my political views that there is much to be said about him as I bring you along this journey. As a senior at Harvard, Kennedy wrote his thesis examining the reasons the British Government failed to prevent World War II. In Why England Slept, published in 1940, Kennedy explained how Britain had too much faith in the League of Nations to keep the peace and thus did not prepare for war. Meanwhile, Nazi Germany continued to violate the Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I.
When Kennedy became president twenty years later, he rereleased this book. He felt its lesson was just as relevant in 1960 as it was at its first publication in 1940 and I believed it was still as relevant in the 2000s as it was in 1960s. We were living in a world where Saddam Hussein had an aggressive history of invading neighboring nations and had been ignoring resolutions from the United Nations Security Council for a decade. I feared history was repeating itself. The United States and the western world had too much faith in the ability of the United Nations and its International Atomic Energy Agency to keep the peace by preventing Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction.
The further possibility that North Korea and Iran were developing nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which they were both signatories, further diminished my faith in the United Nations. To avert war in the future, we had to deal with potential threats to security before they developed into something more serious and Saddam Hussein was a lingering, if not developing, threat to world security. Would we sleep, as England did, while the world inched closer to another global conflict or would we take a proactive approach to prevent the next world war?
Of course, by the time of the 2004 election, the United States had already taken that proactive action and Saddam Hussein had already been captured. The issue became finishing what we had started. In my view, it was time for stabilizing Iraq, not withdrawing from it. Regardless of your opinion of the invasion, I argued time and time again, we were there and we should finish the job. This wasn't just about the stubborn principle of it, either. It was about America’s projection of strength in the world, strength Osama Bin Laden described as paper thin in a 1998 interview with ABC’s John Miller.
“After God honored us with victory in Afghanistan,” Osama Bin Laden explained, “and justice prevailed against those who slaughtered millions of Muslims in the Muslim republics, Muslim minds no longer believed in the myth of superpowers. The youth no longer saw America as a superpower.”
“After leaving Afghanistan they headed for Somalia and prepared for a long battle, thinking that the Americans were like the Russians. They were surprised when the Americans entered with 300,000 troops, and collected other troops from around the world – 5,000 from Pakistan, 5,000 from India, 5,000 from Bangladesh, 5,000 from Egypt, Senegal, and others like Saudi Arabia. The youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and realized more than before that the American soldiers are paper tigers. After a few blows, the Americans ran away in defeat. After a few blows, they forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. They left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.”Bin Laden was referring to our withdrawal from Somalia in 1994, three years after we stopped just short of taking Baghdad in the 1991 Gulf War. Did we have the backbone to fight a prolonged military conflict and the stomach for high casualties anymore? To be honest, my faith in our resolve as a people was shaking. In the Second World War, the United States stomached hundreds of thousands of combat deaths, yet we fought until we won. In Korea and Vietnam, we fought on after losing tens of thousands of troops in battle, yet in Iraq at the time of the 2004 presidential election where it was a central issue of the campaign, U.S. combat deaths were about a thousand. What happened to us since the Greatest Generation? Maybe Osama Bin Laden was partially right about us: the men and women of the Armed Forces are certainly not paper tigers but what about our leaders?
George W. Bush gave me hope that we would stay the course and finish what we started instead of running away after a few blows. Our victory in Iraq, which could only be achieved when that country was able to defend itself and its people, would reassert American strength around the world; it would demonstrate to Bin Laden and his followers that we were not paper tigers; it would confirm that we were still the world’s only superpower and it would help make us the leaders of that new world order. That is why success in Iraq was so vital and why I cast my first vote to reelect President George W. Bush.
Hence, the hawkish Republican in me was born but it felt more like an awakening than a birth – an awakening to the fact that the Democratic Party was not the party of John Kennedy anymore. In fact – and it was a source of comfort for me to learn – upon examination of his actual policies and record, that an argument could be made that JFK would have an ‘R’ after his name today. Indeed, John F. Kennedy was proud to be a Democrat, as was his brother Bobby. He wouldn't have left the Democratic Party and my birth as a Republican – that awakening I speak of, was seeing that the Democratic Party had left John Kennedy – and because Kennedy was the seed of my political philosophy, I felt as though the party abandoned me, too.
After all, President Kennedy supported a tax cut larger than any Reagan or Bush tax cut. Actually, the Washington-based Tax Foundation, a think tank, reported just months before the 2004 election that the Kennedy tax cut was almost equal to all the tax cuts of the Bush presidency combined. Over the last four years, increased revenues – Democratic code for tax hikes – has been a pillar of President Barack Obama’s economic proposal and a quid-pro-quo bargaining chip for the spending cuts sought after by the Republicans in Congress.
Kennedy’s compass would likely have pointed rightward on some social issues too. As the Nation’s first Catholic president, he nominated Byron White, a pro-life judge to the U.S. Supreme Court. Every single presidential and vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic Party has been pro-choice since 1976 – the first presidential election cycle after the controversial Roe v. Wade decision.
As it pertains to foreign policy, JFK was a hawk for most of his political career. He was the first president to claim a “special relationship” existed between Israel and the United States and in 1963 began the sale of advanced military weaponry to the Jewish State – a logical next step after announcing the first security guarantees in 1962. Today, while both Democrats and Republicans certainly jockey for the Jewish vote, Republicans have taken on the strongest pro-Israel stances, including a hardliner approach towards Iran and Syria and more open opposition to the recognition of the Palestine (PLO) in the United Nations. Take the case of former Secretary of State Jim Baker under President George H. W. Bush. Faced with the prospect of the UN recognizing the State of Palestine, Baker took on a proactive approach and is credited with blocking that vote from ever taking place.
“I will recommend to the President,” Baker said in a public statement, “that the United States make no further contributions… to any international organization which makes any changes in the PLO's status as an observer organization.” Two decades later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response was reactive, calling the November 29, 2012 vote in favor of recognizing the State of Palestine “unfortunate and counterproductive”. If anything, it goes to show how much influence the United States has lost since the end of the Cold War.
On the other side of the world, JFK escalated the war in Vietnam by spending American tax dollars to expand the South Vietnamese Army, he sent more U.S. troops there and even sent uniformed military advisers to neighboring Laos as a sign of our resolve in these proxy wars against the Soviet Union and Communist China. Meanwhile, back in our hemisphere, he signed off on a clandestine operation to train Cuban exiles to invade Cuba to overthrow the Communist Dictator Fidel Castro. This Bay of Pigs invasion turned out to be a massive failure for which he took full responsibility but nonetheless, this is a story of a comparatively aggressive foreign policy for a Massachusetts Democrat. It is also a story of the type of foreign policy that attracted me to the Republican side and with my childhood hero at my side – at least in my mind – I felt in good company.
The Democratic Party was all that I had really known up until that time. My grandfather, with whom I lived during my last two years of high school, is liberal. My father, after whom I am named, is conservative but divorce split our family into two and during that time period, we only spoke occasionally. That was slowly changing, though, and as we continued to return normalcy to our father-son relationship, I was more open to listening to his point of view on political issues – especially since I was in the market for a new party and had already voted once for the Republicans anyway. Politics was an area where we had a strong common interest and as it turns out, high compatibility, which I am glad has served as a catalyst helping restore our relationship over the years.