Reader Request Week 2015 #6: Me and Republicans

G.B. Miller asks:

From what I’ve read, you seem to be progressive Democrat with a distaste for Republicans. Has there/will there be a time where a Republican, on any level, will do something that might momentarily soften your distaste for the Republican party?

Heh.

One, I’m not a Democrat. I’ve been registered as an independent for as long as I’ve been a voter. Two, I’ve voted for Republicans as recently as the last election, for local offices where I believed they were the best-qualified candidates. Three, the last actual politician I donated money to was Jon Huntsman, in the belief that even if I was not a Republican, as a citizen of the US, it behooved me to encourage the Republicans to nominate for president someone who was not ridiculously out there. It didn’t do him much good, alas, nor the Republicans.

Four, I’m not at all sure I qualify as a genuine “progressive.” I will certainly allow that to folks on the right, I look like a progressive, but then, for a lot of folks on the right, Obama looks like dyed-in-the-wool socialist, rather than what he is, which is a technocratic centrist with just a little lean to the left. Obama being called a socialist causes actual socialists a nasty case of hives, as I understand. With the exception that I was for same-sex marriage well before he was, overall I’m probably a smidge to the right of Obama. As I am fond of saying to people, in the days of yore, the politics I have today would have qualified me to be a “Rockefeller Republican.” Which is to say I didn’t leave the GOP; the GOP left me. When I was, like, eleven.

(If you want another perspective on my politics, ask lefties from outside the United States, i.e., where there is still a genuine political left, if I seem like a lefty to them. I suspect most of them would position me as center-to-center-right; in other words, the guy who is wrong in a lot of his politics but doesn’t make an ass of himself about it at family gatherings.)

What marks me as a “progressive” these days is the fact I’m for same-sex marriage and am pro-choice, which are positions that could be equally “libertarian,” if “libertarian” hadn’t somehow transmuted itself into “reactionary conservative” here in the US lately, and the fact that I am both for having the United States have a slightly better social net and infrastructure than it does (which is a “liberal” position) and that it should actually pay for those services/infrastructure rather than deficit finance them (which is a “conservative” position), and that probably the best way to do that is punt up the marginal rate a bit on the high end because those of us on the high end (Hi! I’m the 1%!) can afford it. There are other fiddly details but that’s the gist of it.

Bluntly: if that’s a “progressive” viewpoint, there’s something very wrong with the definition of “progressive.” In a world where the politics of the moment weren’t ridiculously skewed, these positions would be “moderate” at best. Equally bluntly: I’m a well-off, white, middle-aged dude who likes being comfortable and likes his country genially middle-class. I should not be seen as anywhere near the vanguard of leftist politics in this country. That I am seen to be so really is a problem, both for the left and for the right.

The county I live in is overwhelmingly Republican and/or conservative; I get along with nearly everyone here on a day-to-day basis, even if I vote differently than many of them do. I have Republicans and/or conservative friends and family members and business associates; I get along well with them too. By and large they don’t have to do anything to make me think better of them; I think well of them as it is.

That said, and to be blunt again, there’s very little chance I’ll be voting for GOP candidates for jobs above the local level anytime soon, because at the state and national party level, I don’t see a lot of rationality when it comes either to individual rights or the proper role of the government with regard to services/infrastructure or taxes. I also think the party’s been blinded by frankly incomprehensible hatred of Obama, which almost certainly does have a racial element to it, thanks for asking, added on top of a general howling outrage that a Democrat is in the White House at all. I like many Republicans but I actively dislike the policies and strategies (such as they are) of the Republican Party on the state and national levels.

If the GOP ever wants me to vote for it above the local level — and who knows? Maybe they don’t! — then they will need to ditch the Gingrich/Atwater philosophy of painting anyone of differing politics as heretics to be burned and never to be negotiated with, and they’ll have to have a serious rethink of how they approach taxation and services. I think it’s possible to believe in low(ish) taxation and constrained government coupled with a robust private sector while still recognizing that some things really do need to be handled by government, and paid for. I’d also like to see evidence they believe civil rights are indeed for everyone, not just the straight, white and/or embryonic.

But — and this is significant — there is no reason for the GOP to change its current strategy. If you’ve not noticed, it holds both the House and Senate at the national level, and a whole lot of state executive and legislative branches. What it’s doing is pretty successful, and when it’s not (2008, 2012), the strategy simply to double down and do it harder has not been a bad one for them (2010, 2014). So I don’t see the GOP doing anything it needs to do to win my vote — or even to lessen my overall dislike of it — on the state or national level anytime soon.

Which I’m sure they think it fine. They don’t, in fact, need my vote. By the time they ever do, I suspect it might be too late for them.

Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John

Peter asks:

Hi there! I’d like to hear your thoughts about the name “John”. It’s one of the most common names in the English-speaking world. It’s also your name. Do you like being named John? If you had to change your name, what would you change it to?

“John” is indeed a very common male name in the English world, as are its various cognates in other languages (Ian, Sean, Juan, Ivan, etc), but in English at least, its stock has come down in quite a bit in recent years — once a perennial Top Ten name, last year “John” was merely the 55th most popular name in the US (according to this baby name site), wedged between “Julian” and “Colton.”  At this point, if you hear someone’s named John, you might reasonably surmise he’s likely over 25, which of course in my case is perfectly correct.

I like being named “John” just fine, but I’ll also note that almost no one calls me by the name. In most social situations I am almost always and exclusively called “Scalzi” and have been since I was child, not by family (my family nickname was “John-John” to distinguish me from other Johns in the family, including my father) but by just about everyone else. Indeed, I am often referred to by “Scalzi” even when everyone else is referred to by first name (“I had dinner with Bob, Ted, Cyndi and Scalzi”).

One reason is practical: I’m usually the only Scalzi in most contexts, so referring to me by that name is useful for identification, particularly when there’s another John in the social mix, who is then often referred to by his first name. Another reason, I suspect, is that “Scalzi” is more fun to say than “John.” Go ahead, try it. A third reason is that I lucked into the name as branding — there are other Scalzis in the English-speaking world, but none so prominent as I; check Google on this for confirmation (or Bing, if you like, you deviant). There are other Scalzis, and there are even other John Scalzis, but in terms of to whom the name refers in our culture, I am the Scalzi. And that’s pretty cool. Might as well call me that name; it’s me.

Whereas I will never be the John, no matter how hard I try. There are several saints at the head of the line, and then a few kings and presidents, other world historical figures and then the long long line of celebrities who share the name. Even fictional Johns have more notability than I; I will never ever be more famous than John McClane, for example. I’m not necessarily even the first John people think of when it comes to science fiction: There are the Johns Varley, Wyndham, Christopher and Ringo which come to me right off the top of head, and many others I could name if I thought about it more, and of course there’s John W. Campbell, who as an editor largely defined what we think of as the “Golden Age” of science fiction.

Which is neither here nor there as to whether I like the name “John,” mind you. I do; it’s nice and comfortable and it’s me — I will answer to it, when it’s used (which is rarely) and it’s meant to refer to me in context (slightly more rarely). I just recognize that a very common name means that you share it with a wide number of people. “John” is me, but it’s not only me, and it will never be primarily me, when people think of the name, in the way “Scalzi” is.

As for what I would change my name to, well, as noted above, there’s already a name for me that, culturally speaking, I kind of own, and which is what most people actually use to refer to me, so changing my first name would not only be unnecessary, there’s also a real question of whether anyone would actually notice. But if I had to change it, and I would have to exclude “Jon” from the list of names I could change it to (technically “Jon” and “John” are different names), I’d probably go with “Michael,” which is my middle name and thus one comfortably already allied with my identity. And it’s about as common as “John,” which solves no problems, as far as names go. Fortunately, “Scalzi” is still available to me for identification purposes.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)