Dear Republicans Candidates for President,
I’d like to introduce myself. I am your swing voter in 2012. I voted for President Obama in 2008 because, in my opinion, he was the better candidate of the two we were left with in the end. I held no delusions then, nor do I now, that he is the best person in our country for the job. Of course, those that are the best candidates don’t actually want the job, but that is an aside.
The point is that your ticket to the white house goes through me and those like me. I am the national center. My issues spread both sides of the aisle and while I have a party affiliation, it is only so that I can participate in the primary system and I certainly do not support that party’s stand on every issue. In fact, at different times in my life, I have been registered for each of the major parties and I even dabbled for a time in some third parties in the delusional hope that we might be able to escape the dominant two-party system that neither represents me nor serves our country best.
My point is that not everyone fits the “you are either with us or against us” mantra that has so enveloped the right-wing view on both international affairs but also now domestic political divisions. I am neither black nor white but grey and thus you have left no room for me in the black and white world you paint.I should note that you are not alone in painting this caricature of the American political landscape. The left-wing has not been shy on partisan rhetoric, even if they appear to be the Oscar to your Felix when it comes to getting themselves organized in this political two-step.
The bottom line is this: I am not sold on the job our president is doing and I would not be opposed to voting against him in 2012. But to get my vote you need to show me why you are better and that begins by showing me you are trustworthy. I don’t trust politicians from either side of the aisle, but when you begin your campaign with lies and untruths, that certainly isn’t going to help your case. And when your primary season then slides quickly into mudslinging, its hard to want to get on board with any option from your party. President of the United States seems to me to be too important a role to settle for ‘the option that wasn’t as bad as the other guy.’ I want to vote for you because of who you are, not because of who your opponent is not.
You see, I desperately want you to woo me. I’m dissatisfied in these hard economic times and I am looking for my Prince Charming. I want someone to lead me and this country out of this era of boom and bust cycles, of deficit spending, of short-term gains for the few and long-term losses for the many. I know you are not courting me today – right now you are courting your base for the right to court me. I accept that, but please know that this doesn’t mean that I am not watching you right now. I see everything you do and its forming my view of you.
I want to know that you are going to do your best to rise above the Washington fray and lead from the oval office. Being a commander-in-chief takes character, and character is not partisan. There is a reason both parties want to claim to be in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. It is not their policies but their character. To be presidential means having the wisdom to know what the right choice is in difficult situations. Perhaps more importantly, it takes courage to make the right choice over the political choice.
Being a president of character also takes a sense of justice and a corresponding sense of the common good. This isn’t shorthand for the ‘redistribution of wealth’ that you are so violently opposed to, but neither is it licence for protection of the few in the name of the many. It is the understanding that you represent ALL Americans, not just those who fund your Super-PAC. It means knowing when to fight for your principles but also when ideology is the enemy of the good.
Yes, I am your swing voter. I am middle class and middle of the road. I am neither Tea Party nor Occupy, but I do think both government and corporations are part of the problem. I also reluctantly accept that both need to be part of the solution. I am neither all left nor all right and so I don’t expect that you will represent me perfectly. But I do expect that, if you want my vote for the most important office in the world, then you ought to live up to that office. That means rising above ideology, abandoning the mudslinging, embracing the common good, and working for progress. But most of all, it means showing me and the rest of the center that you have the strength of character enough to do this both in this campaign and, more importantly, when you move in to the oval office.
The world is not the dualistic caricature you want to present it as. There is a center in this country and we are the proverbial kingmaker. The way to court us is to show us your true colors. My greatest fear is that this is what you have been doing all along.
[Matthew Gaudet is an adjunct professor of ethics at the University of San Francisco and a graduate student at the Graduate Theological Union. For more of Matt's posts on this blog, please click here]