At age 17, I recently was shocked to learn, from my father, that I am a heretic. He explained to me that heresy is derived from the Greek word "αἵρεσις", transliterated into Latin script as "hairesis." It means to choose. It took me some time to process the idea that I was a heretic, but I came to realize he meant it as a compliment.
My status as heretic derives from the fact that I don't identify myself with any established political philosophies. I will look at a solution to a problem, and if it works, I will support it, and if it doesn't, then I will not. I won't seek out the "Liberal" answer or the "Conservative" answer; I try seek out the right answer. As President John F. Kennedy said, "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."
I believe that we need a return to heresy. After being born during the Clinton years, being introduced to politics during the Bush years via the McCain Campaign, and becoming aware of the world around me during the Obama years, it occurs to me that at some point Americans stopped choosing. It's rather uncommon these days to come across somebody that supports a woman's right to an abortion as well as the right to bear arms. People typically think of themselves as "Progressives," "Conservatives", or as "Libertarians", and convince themselves not only that their political philosophy is better than all others, but also that it is better all of the time.
The "us vs. them" mentality needs to come to a screeching halt if this country is going to stop seeing an ever-widening divide between left and right. This nation was built by reasonable compromise, and I've seen little evidence of that in recent years.
There are many people who doubt the belief that we as a society care more about which team a person is on than who they are. Who we are is the most important thing. I have memories of being taken to the polling stations during elections when I was little, and my dad would ask me to press the buttons for him. I distinctly remember one time where he told me to just pick "straight Republican" because he didn't know many of the local candidates, and he guessed they were closer to his philosophy.
A recent Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans would not be willing to vote for a Socialist candidate that was otherwise qualified for the job. Only 47 percent said they would. If the only real objection a person has is to the label a person chooses then the problem is even worse than I thought.
If the quality of the candidate was the most important factor, landslide elections would be a lot more common. In the last six presidential election cycles, the winners have averaged barely more than 49 percent of the popular vote. Meanwhile, in my lifetime, the winner has not won with a margin of victory of more than 10 points, with the highest being 7.27 percent (Barack Obama, '08), and the lowest being -0.51 percent (George Bush, '00).
I often hear how the United States has, in a way, fallen from grace and is no longer the greatest country in world. I'd like to know what it feels like to live in a country that has earned that status. I don't have the time or energy to learn Danish, so... I'll just have to help fix up this one.
I hope one day for heresy to take back America. Then maybe, just maybe, we can reclaim the title of best country in the world. It all starts with finding new ways to tackle problems, and accepting that our opinions may not always be the only way. As Lao Tzu wrote, in the 81st verse of The Tao Te Ching: "Those who are intelligent are not ideologues. Those who are ideologues are not intelligent."
The founding fathers established a republican system of government for a reason. That reason was not because they wanted a system with two polar opposite parties, with one completely dominating the political process at a time. George Washington himself even famously warned the country about the dangers of political parties in his 1796 farewell address: "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism."
Partisanship, now, is hindering, rather than aiding, the general welfare. Perhaps political parties are dwindling because they have become the problem rather than offering the solution. Without political parties we would have no choice but to commit heresy. Heresy -- to think for oneself -- not partisanship, offers the promise of a better tomorrow. I invite you to become a heretic.