In my days as a budding political scientist — nipped, fortunately for the discipline, in the bud — I learned that party identification is frequently due to non-ideological, and to outsiders irrational, factors. I’m sure this is less true today, as corporate and social media herd us into Team Red and Team Blue cattle pens, but this knowledge offers comfort every biennium, when primary elections roll around and I wonder why the hell I remain a registered Democrat.

The die was cast, I suppose, when as a tyke I discovered in my grandparents’ attic a “Peace, Preparedness,...

In my days as a budding political scientist — nipped, fortunately for the discipline, in the bud — I learned that party identification is frequently due to non-ideological, and to outsiders irrational, factors. I’m sure this is less true today, as corporate and social media herd us into Team Red and Team Blue cattle pens, but this knowledge offers comfort every biennium, when primary elections roll around and I wonder why the hell I remain a registered Democrat.

The die was cast, I suppose, when as a tyke I discovered in my grandparents’ attic a “Peace, Preparedness, Prosperity” button promoting Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 reelection. (How was I to know that smug bastard lied?) Some adult — likely my grandfather, who worked the counter at Marshall’s newsstand — explained to me that the Democrats were the party of the workers and the Republicans the party of the employers. Another adult — my Irish-Catholic grandmother? — informed me that the Democrats had also nominated for president the great political champion of our tribe: no, not the PT-boat lieutenant who occasionally gave Ava Gardner fifteen seconds of pleasure while he was doped-up and supine, but Al Smith, the 1920s governor of New York whose hale parochialism was captured by his quip that “I would sooner be a lamp-post on Park Row than the governor of California.”

Unbeknownst to me till recently, my grandfather had run for local office on the Democratic ticket before my birth, a sacrificial lamb in our Republican town. A railroad signalman with the Vonnegutian name of Henry Crome beat him; whenever I pass the whilom home of the long-dead Crome I mimic my all-time favorite presidential relative, TR’s hoydenish daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who upon President Wilson’s return from the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stood outside the White House chanting, “A murrain on him, a murrain on him.” (This was American paganism’s finest hour.)

I registered Democrat the day I turned eighteen and in 1978 I would cast the first in a lifetime of otiose New York state Democratic primary votes. That one was for the flaky lieutenant governor Mary Anne Krupsak on the sensible grounds that she was an Upstater. Only later did I learn that Upstate Democratic candidates routinely dissemble and in fact hold views almost identical to those of your typical professional-class Gothamite. So dreadful are the choices that more than once I have voted for Al Sharpton on a principle enunciated by Elvis Costello: “I used to be disgusted/ But now I try to be amused.”

The first-generation neocons of the 1970s used to say that they hadn’t left the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party had left them. I’d be a vainglorious fool to make that claim for myself — the party has been blissfully undisturbed by my dissatisfied presence — but that old nineteenth-century Democratic slogan “Equal Rights for All: Special Privileges for None” still rings true to me, even if you’d be hard pressed to find a nationally prominent Democrat this side of Tulsi Gabbard who would nod in assent.

I look back fondly on the last invigorating spasm before the body of the Democratic Party achieved corpsehood: that fillip supplied by the Upper Midwest civic leftism of its George McGovern wing. The transmogrification of the Democracy in the half-century separating McGovern ’72 from Biden ’22 is as dizzying as the flip and snip that turned Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner.

I can hear snorting from the precincts of Conservatism, Inc. George McGovern? Pshaw! (The preening fogies probably do spit out the bilabial pshaw.) But the patriotic small-town South Dakotan McGovern favored peace with Russia, distrusted the FBI and CIA, and respected rural and working-class people. As Paul McCartney asked, “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know.”

Contrast tolerant, libertarian-tinged McGovernism with the program extruded by today’s Democratic Party, which despite the airtime consumed by Joe Manchin and AOC is far more uniform than the genuinely diverse old Democratic coalition of prairie progressives, urban machines, Stevensonian eggheads and Dixie pols. The Biden-Harris party is monolithically behind a renewed Cold War with Russia, augmenting the surveillance powers of the intelligence and national law-enforcement agencies, and clamping down on dissenters and their right to speak. Its tweeting intellectuals (sic) barely bother to hide their contempt for hicks and rednecks and those lacking college degrees.

Boy is all this ever depressing. There is not a single cogent reason why I should stay at least nominally a Democrat. Until, that is, I look at the Republicans…

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s April 2022 World edition.