I've been a Democrat since I was old enough to vote. My parents were Democrats, their parents were Democrats and I've known nothing other than the Democratic Party my entire life. In 2000, much to the dismay of my grandfather, I considered voting for John McCain.
I appreciated his honesty and the way he carried himself. He was empathetic, and much like me, he seemed like he just wanted the best for the country. Had I been old enough to vote, he would have been my candidate of choice.
John McCain was just the first in a line of Republicans that I've considered supporting. When I say this to Democrats, they often look at me in utter disbelief.
"How can you support a Republican?" they ask.
I am a pro-choice, pro-gun, fiscally conservative, but socially liberal voter. I'm what some would have called a "Rockefeller Republican" in the '80s. I believe that the government should stay out of our medical decisions, especially those as emotionally and physically difficult as abortion.
I believe every citizen has a right to protect his or her home within reason. I believe that we can preserve programs like social security, while also keeping the government out of decisions, like the people we marry.
I'd like to think that I'm not an outlier. Throughout this Republican primary, I've heard ideas that I wholeheartedly agree with.
If you make $500,000 or more, maybe you don't need your Social Security check. Maybe that money can be better spent paying down the deficit or supplying teachers with better school supplies.
If we go to war, then we should make that choice decisively. Half measures are not how we use the young men and woman who bravely serve us. The problem is that every time I hear a Republican espouse these viewpoints, it's followed up by the stereotyping of an entire group of people.
When Republicans talk about social programs, it's often to stereotype poor people, especially African Americans. Republicans talk about how people are lazy and want a handout, while failing to acknowledge the institutional problems that lead to poverty. I've never met a person who said, "I want to be poor when I grow up."
There are certainly Americans who are afforded opportunities and let them go to waste. That is a reality.
What is a more common reality is the fact that many Americans are born into areas with poor education, few job opportunities and no one to teach them the life skills they so desperately need. If no one told him to turn off the TV and read a book as a child, how can we be mad at the 10-year-old struggling to read?
We need more empathy in our politics. I use the word empathy because I don't want people feeling bad about the less fortunate. That's sympathy. Empathy is realizing you could easily be in a less fortunate person's shoes.
I've watched as candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie have discuss their faith in one moment, while blaming the entire Muslim community for the acts of a few deranged followers in another. We don't blame all Christians when the Westboro Baptist Church pickets the funeral of a fallen soldier. We don't blame all Christians when an abortion clinic is bombed, or a physician like Dr. Tiller is murdered by fanatical Christians.
Issues like abortion, entitlement reform and affirmative action are complicated enough without loaded language being tossed around. It poisons the well and makes it harder for middle-of-the-road voters like me to cross over and vote Republican when the language is so harsh.
At the end of the day, I vote for a candidate not because I agree with everything he or she has say, but because I trust that person. I wasn't a big fan of former President George W. Bush, but I believe he did what he thought he needed to do to protect our country. I respect him for that.
I question any politician I'm in favor of on every issue. Debate and disagreement is good; it breeds new ideas.
Until a Republican candidate can offer me a message of hope and inclusiveness, I won't vote for him or her. Tone is too important to me. I certainly don't agree with everything Hillary or Bernie says, but I appreciate the fact that I don't feel emotionally conflicted voting for them.
Republicans have a real opportunity to remake their electorate. Ronald Reagan brought a whole generation of Democrats over to the Republican Party by talking about that "shining city upon on a hill." In his farewell address to the American public, Ronald Reagan said:
We've done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.
This is the type of message that Democrats and Republicans alike want to hear. It's not only good for the Republican Party, but it's also good for the Democratic Party. Steel sharpens steel, and when both parties have messages of hope and opportunity, the country as a whole benefits.
We aren't going to get to that "shining city upon a hill" that Reagan spoke of by playing on angst and unease. We will get there by lifting up all boats and working together to tackle the issues that we face in the 21st century.
Issues like economic inequality, joblessness and immigration are not going anywhere. They will continue to be here whether we deal with them today or leave them for the next generation to solve. So here is my suggestion: Let's take our foot off the rhetorical pedal and get to the business of solving problems.
As cheeky as it may sound, not every win is truly a win. If you win by dividing and conquering, engaging in nasty politics and turning off the electorate, then maybe you didn't actually win. Let's be better. Your party doesn't just depend on it; your nation depends on it.