"Honey, I think I'm becoming a Republican!" I exclaimed to my husband one sunny spring afternoon while perusing a magazine. As usual, he calmly examined me for physical evidence of my latest revelation, questioned me about my claim and decided that a few conservative views did not a Republican make. But I wasn't so sure. Besides, if I wasn't a Republican and I couldn't identify with the Democrats anymore, what on earth was I? I had to have a party affiliation and fast.
That sounds ridiculous, right? Wait a minute. Don't be so quick to judge my desperate need to fit in. Liberal, conservative, moderate, independent, left wing, right wing, Democrat, Republican, pro-this, anti-that … Americans love labels. Nowadays, most of us can't even eat dinner without labeling our meal South Beach, Atkins-friendly or The Zone. But in our carbohydrate-deprived world, nowhere are the grand label-makers harder at work than in the political arena.
Turn on CNN or Fox News any time of day and view unsuspecting guests being pigeonholed into political affiliations whether they like it or not. Sure, each network is careful to find so-called experts from both sides of the issue. But when have there ever been only two sides to any story? Whether it's the war in Iraq, the upcoming presidential elections or universal health care, the views of Americans are hardly ever black and white.
Take my generation: 30-something, well-educated, family-oriented and living the suburban dream. When I look at my friends and colleagues, I see men and women who are young enough to want to buck the system, but old enough to be returning to traditional ideals about God, family and the American way. According to Census 2000, the median age in the U.S. is 35.3, and the population between the ages of 25 and 44 (approximately 85 million people) is nearly as large as the group over 44 (approximately 96 million people). Despite our burgeoning numbers and enormous spending power, we are often left out of the political debate. Our voices are often obscured by society's ballooning need to cater to baby boomers and pacify the hip-hop generation. The needs of the 30-something crowd are relegated to the realms of anti-depressants and leak-proof diapers.
The traditional bi-partisan system doesn't represent us adequately, because many of us share views from both sides of the party lines. We may be passionately pro-choice, but debate any lingering merits of affirmative action. Others of us might believe in the right to bear arms despite being against the death penalty. Where is such a multi-dimensional creature supposed to find political refuge? Not among the stars working the cameras from their perches in the Republican or Democratic parties.
Catch-all labels do simplify our political dialogue. However, they also erode our intellect and stifle individuality. After so much overuse, the labels—and the ones using them—lose their meaning, and our ideals slowly start to fall into cliché and stereotype.
Mississippi perpetuates these labels and that narrow way of thinking about the political process with every passing primary election. By not having open primaries, our state's voting system forces us to vote for candidates in only one party when, in fact, some of us may want to support another party's candidates for particular races.
I still haven't decided whom I'm voting for Nov. 2. Bush isn't an option, and Kerry certainly hasn't impressed me. And Nader? His repeated campaign efforts have become a joke.
Let's open up our way of thinking about politics and parties. Let's banish the labels that only curb diverse ideologies and force us into voting submission. Who cares if the next presidential candidate is a pro-choice, right-wing, fundamentalist moderate? With any luck, she'll finally be the one that represents me.
Jennifer Spann is a frequent JFP columnist. She lives blissfully child-free with her husband in Jackson.