I was a member of the Republican Party for a long time. I voted for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes for president. Recently, they lost me.
I always knew that I disagreed with some Republicans about certain social issues, but I always held a set of core principles that, to me, clearly made me a Republican. I still hold those beliefs.
I believe in the power of individual initiative. I believe that this country affords us innumerable opportunities, that we should be grateful for those opportunities and take responsibility for our own lives.
I believe that problems should be solved at a level as close to the individual as possible. If it's beyond an individual's capacity, we should look to the community; if it's beyond the community, to municipal government; if it's beyond municipal government, then to the states and then, finally, to the federal government. As others have said, we should have only the government we need.
I believe that individual success -- financial and otherwise -- should be celebrated and that most Americans wish it for themselves and their children. Those who don't achieve financial success should not be bitter toward those who do. We do not need to punish the successful to provide opportunities for those who are not.
I believe there is evil in the world and people who wish our country harm. Our good intentions will not protect us. Our enemies should know that while our freedom may make us a convenient target, our strength makes us a fearsome adversary. I lived in New York on 9/11 and I will never forget.
I believe that ideology must be tempered by reality, by history, by what we know of human nature. Life is not a position paper. We don't live in a textbook. Things happen -- our thinking needs to be clear and our wills strong, but when necessary, we must adapt to reality.
I also believe we need to be clear about what "conservative" means. To me, it means we should stay out of other people's affairs unless they're interfering with or doing harm to other people. I do not understand how someone else's sexual preferences, as long as they involve consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes, are any of my business -- or any business of the government. I do not understand how some government officials would consider it "conservative" to interfere with conversations between a woman and her physician.
Somewhere along the line, a certain strain of religious belief seems to have become synonymous with conservatism -- and ultimately with Republicanism. I am not a historian, but I can't help wondering how positions like opposition to abortion, opposition to gay rights, a belief in creationism and denial of global warming became identified with Republicans. How did these become defined as "conservative" issues? Does Republicanism today -- or conservatism -- really advocate greater scrutiny of and intervention in citizens' private lives? Does it really require a suspension of our belief in science?
I also believe -- and this is a value currently lacking across the political spectrum -- in respecting the views of others. It is possible for two equally intelligent, equally patriotic, equally well-meaning people to look at the same issue differently. Calling people names and questioning their loyalty or commitment -- to their party or to their country -- may win a particular argument on a particular day, but it makes you seem shrill and small and undermines confidence in you as much as it does in your opponent.
How can any political party grow and prosper in a culture of intolerance -- when it considers any disagreement on any issue to be blasphemy?
The principles that have guided me my entire life -- the principles that caused me to be a Republican in the first place -- are apparently no longer enough. I can believe in small government, low taxes and strong defense, but unless I share some narrow views on other issues, I fail a litmus test and am not considered a "real" Republican.
Ronald Reagan's "11th Commandment," that "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican," has given way to a culture that requires absolute conformity and fealty to a set of beliefs that represents someone else's idea of what conservative means.
Last year, when I relocated to Pittsburgh and enrolled to vote, I stared at the form for a long time. I just couldn't check the Republican box. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I no longer wanted to belong to a club that didn't want me as a member. I couldn't check the Democrat box either -- some of the statements made by leaders of that party send chills up my spine.
So I'm in the limbo that it is to be an Independent -- waiting to see if leaders come forward who capture my imagination and keeping an open mind about issues that arise. Those Republicans who are intolerant of views like mine will not be sorry I've left the party. They apparently believe that open-mindedness is a weakness, that truth is their domain alone.
I believe that great debate leads to great ideas and that the willingness to listen to those who think differently makes us stronger. I'm sorry not to be a Republican. But they lost me. And I don't believe I'm the only one.
Steven Alschuler is a public relations veteran and business owner who recently relocated to Pittsburgh from New York City.