Reflections on Leaving the Party

Susan Eisenhower endorsed Barack Obama in front of seventy-five thousand people. Here’s why.

Susan Eisenhower endorsed Barack Obama at the DNC on Thursday night. She told the audience that "too many people in power have failed us. Belligerence has been a substitute for strength; stubbornness for leadership; and impulsive action has replaced measured and thoughtful response." Read the full speech here. A few days before, she explained her decision to leave the party on National Interest online.

 

I have decided I can no longer be a registered Republican. For the first time in my life I announced my support for a Democratic candidate for the presidency, in February of this year. This was not an endorsement of the Democratic platform, nor was it a slap in the face to the Republican Party. It was an expression of support specifically for Senator Barack Obama. I had always intended to go back to party ranks after the election and work with my many dedicated friends and colleagues to help reshape the GOP, especially in the foreign-policy arena. But I now know I will be more effective focusing on our national and international problems than I will be in trying to reinvigorate a political organization that has already consumed nearly all of its moderate "seed corn."  And now, as the party threatens to trivialize what promised to be a serious debate on our future direction, it will alienate many young people who might have come into party ranks.

My decision came at the end of last week when it was demonstrated to the nation that McCain and this Bush White House have learned little in the last five years. They mishandled what became a crisis in the Caucusus, and this has undermined U.S. national security. At the same time, the McCain camp appears to be comfortable with running an unworthy Karl Rove-style political campaign. Will the McCain operation, and its sponsors, do anything to win?

This week, I changed my registration from Republican to independent. The two political parties as they exist today, and the partisanship that they foster, reflect the many fights of the cold war, the Vietnam era, the post-cold war and the 9/11 periods. Today we are in a different place altogether, where our security as a nation is challenged not just from abroad but also close to home. The energy, health-care and financial crises threaten our national prosperity and well-being, just as surely as any confrontation overseas or an attack by radical terrorists.

As an independent I want to be free of the constraints and burdens that have come with trying to make my own views explainable in the context of today's party. Hijacked by a relatively small few, the GOP of today bears no resemblance to Lincoln, Roosevelt or Eisenhower's party, or many of the other Republican administrations that came after. In my grandparents' time, the thrust of the party was rooted in: a respect for the constitution; the defense of civil liberties; a commitment to fiscal responsibility; the pursuit and stewardship of America's interests abroad; the use of multilateral international engagement and "soft power"; the advancement of civil rights; investment in infrastructure; environmental stewardship; the promotion of science and its discoveries; and a philosophical approach focused squarely on the future.

As an independent I will now feel comfortable supporting people of any political party who reflect those core values.

It was not easy taking this step, since politics, like religion, is something learned on the knee of one's parents and grandparents. And like anything else inherited, it is imbedded in one's own identity. This makes leaving even harder.

But there will be some joy for me in my new status since I will be able to speak for myself, and not as a member of a party that has, sadly, lost its way.

 

Susan Eisenhower is president of the Eisenhower Group, Inc., and chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute.