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Fear and loathing in the Hamptons
Why I lean Republican

My wife and I spent Independence Day weekend in the Hamptons. I used to think that Manhattan's Upper West Side was the most liberal place I'd ever seen, but let me tell you, the Hamptons makes the UWS look like friggen Orange County.* The sense of fear and loathing of our commander-in-chief was universal and palpable. In all the political conversations I had with the locals, I would inevitably make it known that, while I have some problems with Mr. Bush, I do not despise him with an all-consuming fury. When they found out I was a Republican, their reaction was akin to learning that I had just raped and murdered a 97-year-old nun.

I would usually try to calm their growing sense of revulsion by pointing out that, while I strongly support certain aspects of Bush's presidency, I am unhappy with many others.

In turn, I would ask them why they found Bush so loathsome. The responses here were fascinating. I had expected to hear endlessly about Iraq, but it was more often than not about abortion, stem cells, John Ashcroft or the religious right. At this point, I would come out of the closet as a social liberal, and we would find much to agree about.

But how, they would ask, could I support Bush if I were pro-choice? It's a valid question. If I'm a small-l libertarian who agrees with the Democrats on social issues and the Republicans on economic issues, why does one trump the other? What causes me to self-identify as a Republican, as opposed to an independent, or a Democrat?

I had to think about it a bit, but I think I've got it figured out. To simplify, let's reduce my two competing political vectors (social policy and other, non-defense domestic issues) to "abortion" versus "taxes." Yes, it's a gross oversimplification, but it makes these things easier to talk about. Why are taxes more important to me than abortion?

Well they're not, in general. They only become so in the context of our current political climate. I find the present state of abortion rights to be, by and large, agreeable. I find the status quo of tax policy, by contrast, entirely unacceptable. According to the Americans for Tax Reform, yesterday, July 7, was the day that the average American stopped working for the federal government and began working for himself. That is an outrage. It is the fiscal equivalent of pre-Roe v. Wade abortion policy.

Despite their obvious wealth,** every Hamptonian I spoke with seemed far more terrified of not being able to get an abortion than paying too much in taxes. I don't deny that the threat to abortion rights exists, but it is far less urgent and immediate than that to our wallets. For decades, liberals have warned that a vote for a Republican is to "turn back the clock" on "reproductive freedom." They scare us with tales of right-wing bogeymen and back-alley wire hanger abortions, while they systematically pick our pockets.

Well guess what? Republican power has been in its ascendancy for a quarter century now. Republicans dominate nearly all levels of government, and lo and behold, abortion is still legal.

To be sure, a Republican president is no guarantee of tax relief (witness Bush 41), but a Democratic president virtually guarantees a tax increase. We have to vote Republican just to hold our ground! It's regrettable that those of us who care about social and economic liberty have to make such choices, but at the same time, the choice, for me at least, is clear.

This may well change, of course. One can imagine a time when taxes are (relatively) low, with no prospects of immediate increases on the horizon, but abortion rights are genuinely and imminently threatened. When that day comes, I will no doubt throw my sympathies and support behind the Democratic Party. But given current realities, I will continue to lean Republican.

* As a bit of anecdotal evidence to support this outrageous claim, I'll say a word about the two bookstores I visited whilst there. Have you ever heard one of those paranoid, moronic callers to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity complaining of a "conspiracy" of booksellers to "hide" conservative volumes somewhere way in the back of the store? I always listened to such claims and thought to myself, "bullshit!" My beliefs were reinforced every time I'd visit a Barnes and Noble here on the Upper West Side and find the latest puerile offerings from Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly prominently on display. But in the Hamptons? It's true! Both bookstores I walked into presented a dizzying array of Bush-bashing volumes (BTW, can we please now dispense with this fiction that dissenting voices are "not allowed" under this administration?), but finding any right-of-center offering, current or otherwise, proved a genuine challenge. It was astonishing, really, and I guess I owe some talk radio callers an apology. I still don't attribute the placement of books to a left-wing conspiracy, but I think it does reflect the tastes and buying habits of the local populace. I should also point out that both these stores were independent booksellers, and product placement is probably much more at the discretion of the store manager than it is at a large retail chain. But anyway, this whole long footnote has been a pointless digression.

** To say there's money in the Hamptons is, of course, an understatement. Even a casual look around reveals this. There are attractive rich guys, unattractive rich guys, attractive rich girls, and even more attractive non-rich girls who are there to have sex with the rich guys, attractive or not. Add in a few wannabes and celebrities, and summer students from Ireland, and that's pretty much the Hamptons scene. Maybe it's also time to dispense with this fiction that Republicans are the party of the ultra-rich.