I've been on quite an adventure over the past several years in trying to determine just what I believe in regards to political ideology. What are my core principles? What do I stand for? What label do I give myself?
A wise man once recalled:
When I was a teenager, I was an anarchist.
When I went to college, I became a liberal.
When I had a family, I became a conservative.
This may be oversimplified, but it holds some truth. Our circumstances certainly influence the development of our political ideologies--our ideas of what is important in life, what we value and emphasize. My time in college has exposed me to hard-core Republicans, liberal Democrats, Libertarians, independents, and everything in between. I have come to respect these differing views, and even completely comprehend them almost as if I believed them myself. Of course, I can't believe all of them. Yet, I am surprised to find how much of what I was taught as a child still holds true when tested against these opposing and confusing views - as a diamond becomes clearer and more brilliant when placed against black velvet.
In my quest, I've become better able to look at others' viewpoints and understand them, without becoming angry or defensive, even if I find them utterly revolting or ridiculous. Putting yourself in others' shoes, and using that information to make an informed decision is one of the keys to help us act, and prevent us from reacting foolishly.
I see people in both major political parties, on all sides of the ideological spectrum that lie and cheat, and even do worse things once in a while. While I disapprove of this behavior and it turns me away, I try not to let it influence my own beliefs. If I see the Republican Party engage in these self-defeating behaviors, it makes me hesitate to call myself a Republican, but that does not mean I abandon my conservatism. As Ronald Reagan said after leaving the Democrat Party, "I did not leave the party, the party left me."
In my quest for principle, I have tried to not be reactive, but to act. Too many people are driven to extremes when reacting to things they oppose - extremes they normally would not have resorted to. Interpret this behavior how you will, but when we act, instead of react, we find our purpose becomes clearer, our friends and resources flow to us, and our enemies are defused and disarmed.
The polarization and hyper-partisanship of American politics has led me to strongly believe that the candidate matters more than their party in determining what they believe. You can't blame someone or accuse someone of believing something just because they associate with a particular party. Not all Democrats want high taxes and big government; and not all Republicans want unrestrained big business.
Polarization has also led me to focus more on the individual rather than on ideology. This might sound like I am abandoning my conservative principles, but I am not. There is much more to a candidate than where they fit on an ideological spectrum. Conservatives these days are more worried about how "conservative" a candidate is, rather than how well they can solve problems, as if they are simply weighing a piece of red Republican meat on a scale. (What does it mean to be "conservative" anyway?) One must consider character and decision-making skills in addition to ideology.
Our current politicians also have led me to disregard campaign promises - a break from traditional American voter behavior. (After all, don't we elect people to give us the things we want?) I've learned to not pay attention to what candidates say, but what they do and who they are.
"There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle." ~Alexis de Tocqueville