I have never belonged to either party, though they have both put me on their rolls at one time or another assuming that a donation indicated a desire to join.
I started political life as classical liberal and a Democratic voter. I believed that all people were created equal. That the goal of government was to protect and expand as many individual freedoms as possible while staying as small and un-intrusive as possible. I believed that the Constitution of the United States of America was a wholly unique and remarkable document which, if followed, would produce a vibrant and successful society.
These days I vote mainly Republican and am considered to be a conservative. Have my values changed? No, I'm still a classical liberal (read it again, we Americans have a tough time with the word 'liberal'). But the parties have changed a lot, and my view of the parties has changed even more.
It took a long time to see that the Democrats were not what they said they were because my education was controlled by them and, until recently, so was virtually all of the media. I have come to see that the Kennedy brothers balanced approach to truly equal rights was an anomaly. Since then, the fight for equal rights has been distorted into a fight for reparations (a fight which cannot succeed in causing anything but more pain because it is, at it's heart, just another form of cold blooded racism). It is however a fairly predictable distortion when you look at where the leadership of the party has been headed for some time.
What's more, the old generation of Republicans have died off and the new generation has shed the drive to hold on to the past. The new generation wants to return to classical liberal ideals (not the past) and create stronger, more free, more practical society.
At this point I think it is important to separate the leadership of both parties from their memberships. The leaders of both parties will say whatever they think will produce the most votes from their bases, while also garnering as many votes from the undecided as possible. This does not, however, mean that they will do what they say.
In contrast, the members of the parties have actual beliefs to which they adhere. The majority of both parties seem to hold views that could be called 'centrist.' They would like lower taxes, more efficiencies in Government, reasonable environmental controls, and individual freedoms protected by law. There are several defining issues, such as Abortion, which divide the parties along fairly precise lines. Most of these issues can be boiled down to the individual persons view of morality. Those who believe that there is an objective Right and Wrong tend to be Republicans. Those who believe in moral relativism tend to be Democrats. It's not a perfect yardstick, but it's pretty darn good.
What confuses me most at this point is the rabid loyalty to ones party that seems to be the norm today. In days past party membership was passed down from generation to generation along with the family genes. Each party had Moderate, Right and Left wings. For example the Dixiecrats were the Right wing of the Democratic party at one time. Today we have a Democratic party with virtually no Right Wing, and a Republican party with virtually no Left Wing. Both parties have large Moderate wings which are, in the case of the Republicans,underrepresented, and in the case of the Democrats almost completely unrepresented.
If it is the case, and it does seem to be, that the large majority of each party resides in the middle and has values which largely coincide, why do the two parties hate each other so much? Ed over at Captain's Quarters had this to say about that, and I think he said it very well (as usual).
The idea of the "Loyal Opposition" is almost forgotten. We must find a way to get it back. Because there are legitimate differences to be debated, with the honest goal of reaching the best solution, not just appearing in the best light for vote-getting.