This column is going to be up close and personal. To a certain extent every columnist is a public figure and open to public criticism. That's fine with me. I learn something from every letter or e-mail I get, but I object to labels.
Labels are designed for packages and canned goods. They tell you what is inside: tomatoes, books, a dozen pencils. When applied to people, they indicate a lack of imagination at best. At worst, they're nasty and verge on slander.
A label can't tell you what's inside an individual. Yet people use them all the time. "He's as socialist. She's a bigot. He's a religious fanatic. She's a radical feminist ... or liberal ... or conservative." One letter to the local paper said, "It's obvious Joan King is a Democrat."
Not exactly. At the time, I was a registered Republican.
I even made regular donations to the Republican Party, a small amount so I would stay on its mailing list. I used to have a large photograph of President Reagan complete with his official seal and a personal message thanking me for my years of dedication and service to the Republican Party. I feel sort of funny about that.
These days I get phone calls from the Democratic Party, usually at dinnertime, asking for money. I tell them I'm not interested in donating to any candidate this early in the election cycle. Closer to election time, I will choose a candidate based on how closely that individual's value system matches mine, not on his or her party affiliation. To be truthful, I'm hoping some independent will turn up at the last minute.
I don't believe you can tell much about a person by what he or she says on the campaign trail. What matters is their history, i.e., behavior. The Republican Party is fairly clear about its values: financial responsibility, limited government, the importance of the family unit and a strong military. But this isn't how the present administration has behaved.
The Bush administration has run the country into debt, expanded the reach of government, undermined the earning power of the average American family, and jeopardized the military through mismanagement and by overextending troop force.
The Democratic Party speaks in such broad generalities nobody is really sure what it stands for. Democrats are labeled "liberals," but the word has been so distorted by unscrupulous talk show hosts and other pundits, it's become meaningless. But whatever their value system, Democrats have been pretty ineffectual in explaining it to the public.
If we are going to talk about values, let's use the terms progressive and traditional: change, or progress, as opposed to the status quo, or conventional behavior. Of course, all change is not progress, but then the status quo is not always desirable, either. So both value systems have their place.
For example, I have a conventional marriage. I've been married to the same man for 53 years. He has always supported the family financially; I stayed home with the children when they were young and did volunteer work as they grew older.
On the other hand my politics are progressive. Our country's proudest achievements are all progressive: The emancipation, universal suffrage, public education, civil rights, the Freedom of Information Act. Every one of these accomplishments represents a move away from the status quo and the traditional way of doing things.
Now let's get personal. I have three children and one granddaughter. I put their welfare above everything else, but I believe their welfare depends on building a world free of war and a society that is just and sustainable. Theologically, it is not for me to say if I am a Christian or not, but I try to follow Jesus' command to love my neighbor, whether he lives next door or on the other side of the world.
I also believe in forgiveness, and this is important. Everywhere I turn I see people who claim to be Christian but who are unforgiving in so many ways. There are no shades of gray.
Undocumented aliens are "illegals" who must be punished no matter what their history or behavior. The poor are "lazy." Muslims are potential "terrorists." And I defy anyone to look at our penal system and say it represents justice.
When did we become such a fearful, unforgiving people? I am not naive. Bad things happen. They always will, but Americans are safer and better off today than any time in history. Why are we not more charitable?
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesville times.com.