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Breaking Up With the Party of my Youth

I grew up in a fairly conservative home. I learned to love God, I learned to pray. I ate my vegetables and did my chores. Well, most of the time. I definitely got in trouble for shirking when I did, for keeping a messy room, for being rude or insolent to my parents.

I worked hard, I studied hard, I wanted nothing more than to impress my parents with good grades, graduating with honors, getting into medical school, and moving into an 'impressive' life.

I was a conservative. I believed that life had value, that work had value, that people are responsible for their lot in life. I believed that people could really affect change in their worlds, but that it often was a difficult road. I believed that giving money to charity was my responsibility as a human being and as a Christian, not because I was a citizen. I believed that my tax dollars should be spent frugally and wisely, and that people who didn't work were probably just lazy.

And then I grew up. I grew up practicing medicine, watching my friends, living my own struggle. And things shifted. Not only did I stop believing that all poor people were lazy bums and that all people who used food stamps were just saving their cash to buy cigarettes, drugs and dog food, but I also stopped believing that needing assistance was a personality or character flaw. I used to cry, too, for drug testing of welfare recipients, cutting back on medicaid and medicare programs, getting those lazy bastards off the dole and back to work. I used to rail against 'those Mexicans' taking our jobs and having babies so they could stay here and get on the government hand out train.

I started seeing patients, many of whom were working full time or 2 jobs to equal full time, still being denied health care benefits and the ability to save for their future. I watched patients who worked as many hours if not more than I did still fail to find an employer who gave them any sense of security in either their work or their reimbursement.

Certainly I saw people squander their resources, spending foolishly and failing to plan. But more often than not, I saw people who worked as hard as they could to barely get by on what they were making.

More than that, though, I felt something slipping out from under me: the political party I had always grown up believing in. I had been a republican for as long as I was capable of making the decision. I was in high school during the Reagan years. I supported Bush (both of them).

When I grew up in the republican party, I believed that individuals were more important than populations. I believed in a party that believed in not only liberty and freedom but responsibility. I grew up with a party that respected life, but also encouraged people to break out of their molds to be part of the American dream. If you worked hard enough, pushed hard enough, studied hard enough, you could make it. I believed it.

And in the past 20 years, the party of encouragement, of hard work, of plain old gumption has become one of "you can't do that" and "we won't let you."

The republican party has moved ever more to a socially conservative hard line: you have to look, dress, work, pray like we do. You can't be any different, you can't worship a different god (or >GASP< no god), are not welcome to be yourself any longer. You are only welcome to get into line. We'll tap your phones if we think you have friends of whom we don't approve. We'll legislate away your right to vote if you might belong to a group that doesn't traditionally vote for republicans. We'll beat you into the ground with rule changes and legislation until you just fall into line.

Thank God that not everyone is just falling into line. I spent the last 5 years that I was still a republican being more and more embarrassed for having identified with that party. From the homophobic slurs to the racist commentary, from the sexist comments to the anti-science foolishness, I was constantly defending the party in the name of fiscal responsibility.

But finally the past couple of years led me to a tipping point. No longer could I be a woman who supported liberty but affiliated with a party that said that marriage was only for one group of people. No longer could I be part of a party that did not withdraw support from candidates who said things like "legitimate rape." No longer could I be part of a party that actually legislated that a biblical creation story be taught in science classes. As a physician, a Christian, a scientist, a human being, I just can't stand any more to be affiliated with people who reject science simply because it gives them answers they don't want to hear. More importantly, though I can't be part of a group that has decided to take huge portions of our population and decide that they are not worthy of the liberty promised them by the Constitution.

And now, the republicans wonder why they suffered such a loss in the last election. Here in NC, the state legislature (controlled by the Republicans) is going to see come before it 2 pieces of legislation: one would establish a state religion. I'm not kidding. We would be the Christian state of North Carolina. The bill itself actually rejects that the constitution and that the federal courts have any jurisdiction or say in the state.

While I was still reeling from reading that story, another came to light. A local state senator has decided to take away the dependent tax credit from parents of legal voting age young people who decide to register to vote at an address other than their parents. Understand what that implies: college age kids don't vote for us, so we'll make it so they don't register to vote in their college town; they'll have to vote at their parents' addresses. So students who leave the state to attend college and choose to vote in that state will cause their parents tax hardships. Students from Lillington who move to Chapel Hill to attend college will be required to register at the addresses of their parents in order to vote, or risk the parents losing a tax credit for declaring the student a dependent. What?!

I am heartbroken to watch the party of my youth move further and further from reality. In Oklahoma, a law was passed banning Sharia law (which was later struck down by the federal court system as a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution). Racism, fear and insecurity have led to more and more legislation of "conservative values" over time.

My question for the conservative Christians has become this one: is your faith so small and weak that it must be legislated? Is your commitment so wishy washy that if other people decide to live differently, you can't continue to be faithful? Is allowing other people freedom that has nothing to do with you so awful that it must be stopped? How do other people fulfilling their own destinies damage your own? I sincerely don't understand, please explain how if we allow all people to be free it takes freedom from you. Please explain how respecting people as individuals with freedom of choice makes your choices less valid.

I've been married 4 years now. My relationship is not strained by the fulfillment of anyone else's relationship. My relationship is neither stronger nor weaker if my friends are married or cohabitating, be they straight or gay. My faith and love for God is not lessened if there is no state sanctioned prayer at the beginning of my day. It is not up to the government to provide me with my prayers, it is my responsibility, my act, my joy. My prayers are just that: mine. They are between me and God. My marriage is just that: mine. It is between me and my husband.

I just can't understand the need to legislate someone into submission. This is not something ever mandated or even requested by Christ. He just asked us to love. To love God, to love our neighbors. Not to legislate or limit them. When did the republicans wander off of that message so badly and how do we get our party of personal liberty coupled with responsibility back? I want a party that does not resent the rich for being successful nor does it resent the poor for not doing so. Is that so hard? It must be, as neither party truly speaks for me.

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