Why I’m Breaking Up With the Republican Party

A former Alex P. Keaton acolyte gives up on the GOP.

I was a Republican before I was even old enough to vote for one. Thank (or blame) Alex P. Keaton for that. As a child of the 1980s, I fell hook, line and sinker for Michael J. Fox’s charmingly smug personification of the Reagan revolution on Family Ties. I wanted to be, like Alex, a smirky realist who rejected the naive idealism of the Baby Boomers. I wanted, like Alex, to go into business and make a lot of money. I wanted, like Alex, to date Courtney Cox.

So I studied economics. I read Ayn Rand. And as soon as I could, I started voting Republican. But I can’t anymore, at least not for national office. The party’s social conservatism—never something I was too comfortable with—is more prominent and more radical than it’s ever been. As The New York Times recently pointed out, the 1980 GOP platform (approved at Reagan’s coronation, mind you) said of the abortion issue, “we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general—and in our own party.”

How times have changed. The official 2012 GOP platform aspires to ban abortion under any circumstances, even rape or incest. End of discussion. There’s none of that wishy-washy “we recognize differing views” talk anymore (putting the party at odds with its own candidate, who does support those exceptions). The platform also denies same-sex couples not only the right to marry, but even the consolation prize of a civil union. That the GOP fails to see the irony of championing family values while denying family rights to those who want its status and stability would be good fodder for a Very Special Episode of, well, Family Ties.

There used to be a time when libertarian-leaning “Rockefeller Republicans” like me could look the other way at this sort of intolerance and regressive thinking. Cooler heads would prevail, I’d tell myself. That’s how I justified my vote for Rick Santorum for Senate in 2006: I felt he’d be better for Pennsylvania, given his connections in Washington, and his loathsome ultra-conservative social policies would be kept in check by moderate Republicans. But there are no moderate Republicans anymore, at least not in Congress. The true believers are ascendant, and the culture war has become their defining issue at the ballot box. And so I have to reluctantly make it mine, too—by voting Democrat, either for the rest of my life or until the GOP regains some semblance of sanity, whichever comes first. In other words: For the rest of my life.

GOP, that means it’s over between you and me. Go on now, go. Walk out the door. Just turn around now, you’re not welcome anymore. I will survive. Will you? Without moderates and libertarians to keep you in check, you’ll get even more shrill and intransigent, if that’s possible, grinding government to a halt whenever you don’t get your way. That will delight the faithful, and alienate everyone else. Your conservative base will always be there for you, but even Lindsey Graham admits that the GOP isn’t “generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Rising star Marco Rubio comes across as reasonable and charming, but you’re still a tough sell to an increasingly diverse population.

It’s a shame to see our long-term relationship end. We had such great chemistry! Like you, I value personal responsibility, dislike big government, and think unions tend to abuse their power (especially here in Philly). I used to be co-owner of a start-up business, which makes me one of the “job creators” you fetishize. I find Nancy Pelosi just as insufferable as you do. And damn, we looked good together. I wear the Republican uniform of khakis and polo shirts—willingly!—and no matter what I do, my hair looks like a Ken doll’s (confirmed in this author photo). If ever someone belonged arm in arm with the GOP, it’s me.

But you blew it. You drove me away with your constant harping on how others should live their lives. For a group that professes to value individual liberty, you sure do like to butt in where you don’t belong. You see women as little more than Easy-Bake ovens that crank out babies instead of cupcakes, and you thwart anything that might interfere with that. You talk a good game about the sanctity of life, but then oppose funding for social programs that might help make that child’s life substantially better. (Shouldn’t Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule—“You break it, you bought it”—apply to lives, too? How can you force an unwilling woman to raise a kid she doesn’t want and then abandon them both?)

Frankly, I’m ashamed to be seen with you anymore. You think that compromise is a four-letter word. You strong-arm dissenters into toeing the party line. You sign loyalty oaths to a guy named Grover and are led by Oscar the Grouch, but won’t let Bert and Ernie marry. You throw rallies for bigots. You’re anti-science and discourage critical thinking. On civil rights, you’re an embarrassment and a disgrace. You aren’t the pragmatists I once thought, people who understood the world better than head-in-the-clouds hippies. Nope, you’re zealots, ideologues—and just plain assholes. Not everyone, of course, but enough to make me turn in my GOP card.

So that’s it, Republicans. We’re through. Who needs you, anyway? I can do better. I hear Courtney Cox is single these days—and she’s a Democrat.