One of the interesting aspects of public life (even for those of us retired from public life) is the frequency with which total strangers engage me in political conversation.
Most of these unscheduled encounters are pleasant. They can break out anywhere. But it is the variety of self-descriptions (and disclaimers) that make these conversations so entertaining.
Not every discussion includes a qualifier; about a third of folks self-identify as core partisans. Unsurprisingly, most of the core Democrats love the president; their counterparts on the right possess a profound dislike of Mr. Obama. On the flip side, President Reagan remains a conservative hero but receives little love from liberals.
A smaller but more complex group appears in need of a psychotherapist. These are the "soft conservatives" — their conservative credentials come with strings attached. Their oft-heard disclaimer, "I'm a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal" sends warning alarms to pro-lifers and tea partiers alike. Many are nostalgic for the "good ole days" when a far more moderate (pretty liberal in fact) northeastern contingent exerted significant influence over the GOP's candidates and campaigns. Locally, this wing was represented by the well-respected but progressive Sen. Mac Mathias.
Some of my friends and a number of my supporters fall here. They lean Republican because of business and budgets but can swing to the Democrats when the GOP's candidate is deemed too socially conservative. More than a few swung to Barack Obama in 2008.
A similarly predictable group on the other side of the aisle are the troubled "Democrats from birth." These disconsolate folks assure me their mom, dad or other close relative would roll over in their respective graves if they dared change party registration. These are the ethnic Catholics (mostly Italian, Irish, Polish) whose forbearers settled in large cities when there were no Republicans within the city limits. Indeed, they were the foundation of FDR's "New Deal" coalition, until upward mobility into the middle class, a creeping Democratic march toward progressivism, and a president by the name of Reagan made it acceptable to vote Republican "up ticket." A clear majority of these voters broke for Mitt Romney in 2012.
A personal aside: A subset of this group includes individuals who assure me I was the first Republican they ever voted for — a wonderful compliment. Yet, a majority continue to vote Democratic in local elections (old habits are difficult to break). For context, compare precinct results for state legislative seats in Dundalk and Arbutus to gubernatorial and presidential results from the same precincts. There are many split tickets to be found.
Many of you will identify with the foregoing (albeit) generalized descriptions. A few of you, however, remain unsure about your political identity. Well, your search is over. The purpose of this column is to inform my readers. And so, as a public service for the "confused few," I offer the following political identity test. Take it at your leisure, but answer honestly. Only truthful responses will lead you to your comfort zone.
PLEASE CHOOSE ONE FROM EACH PAIR:
Harvard or Liberty University
MSNBC or Fox
Bon Jovi or Kid Rock
FDR or Reagan
1st or 2nd Amendment
(Federal) Dept. of Education or PTA
Jane Fonda or Bo Derek
Air America or Rush Limbaugh
Multi-culturalism or American-exceptionalism
AFL-CIO or NFIB
"Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas"
Obamacare or the insurance you wanted to keep
The Baltimore Sun or Wall Street Journal
Two-tiered drivers licenses or border security
Sean Penn or Charlton Heston
Moveon.org or Americans For Prosperity
Rolling Stone or National Review
Nancy Pelosi or Newt Gingrich
Project Labor Agreements or Right-to-work
Windmills or Keystone Pipeline
For those who chose the left-hand more than half the time, you may safely identify as a Democrat. Those of you who leaned right more times than not will feel at home with the GOP.
For the few of you who ended up exactly half and half, you are that rare breed known as the true moderate. Without doubt, the pollsters will flock to your door next election cycle; you are the holy grail of "swing voters" ripe for participation in an endless stream of cable television focus groups.
But Buyer Beware: "they" say the only things found in the middle of the road are straight white lines and dead animals. In today's hyper-partisan Washington, you might add a smattering of dead politicians of a certain moderate bent.