Do you surrender your autonomy by joining a political party?

As a citizen and a voter in our democracy, is your role to blindly follow your leader, or to use your political power (your vote) to promote and protect your values?  Are your values your own, or do you let your political party define them for you?

The Washington Post published a poll today indicating “broad support for Obama’s counterterrorism policies.”  According to the poll, even “the left wing of the Democratic Party” approves of drone attacks and indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay.  The article almost immediately points out the irony of this:  voters chose Obama in part because he “campaigned on a pledge to close the brig at Guantanamo Bay and to change national security policies he criticized as inconsistent with U.S. law and values.”

This paragraph is worth highlighting:

“The poll shows that 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — support keeping Guantanamo Bay open, even though it emerged as a symbol of the post-Sept. 11 national security policies of George W. Bush, which many liberals bitterly opposed.”  (emphasis added).

Moreover, “fully 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones,” despite many resulting civilian casualties and its questionable legality.

It’s worth comparing the data to older polls.  Regarding Guantanamo, overall 70% of respondents agreed with President Obama on keeping Guantanamo open.  But in June 2009, more Americans favored closing the facility than keeping it open.  In 2006, only 57% of Americans supported using the Guantanamo detention center house accused terrorists.  Even in 2003, support was only at 65%.  Now, under the leadership of a President who campaigned with the promise to close the facility but reneged, support for the detention center may be at its highest level ever.

The Pew Research Center released a poll last year that demonstrated a similar shift of support by Democrats on the Patriot Act.  In 2006 under the Republican Bush, 25% of Democrats viewed the Act as a “necessary tool” and 53% thought it went too far.  Five years later under the Democrat Obama, 35% of Democrats said the Act was necessary, while only 40% thought it went too far.  Republicans, on the other hand, showed less support for the Act in 2011 than they did under Bush.

This is a very limited supply of information, ACED realizes, certainly not enough to draw firm conclusions.  However, the polling data suggests that a significant number of people who identify as belonging to a political party (a) change their values to conform to the policies of their party, and/or (b) change their values to oppose the leader of the other party.  Either is totally inconsistent with a citizen’s role in a democracy.

If you have real values, and if you hope to have any real impact with your vote; if you don’t want be a mere automaton predictably picking red or blue over and over again without regard to policy, you have to think for yourself and stand up for your values.

UPDATE:  Glenn Greenwald does a better job of covering this issue.  Similarities with his post are purely coincidental.

UPDATE 2:  Here is perhaps a more telling stat.  In February 2009, one month after Obama took office and when it was still believed he would close Guantanamo, 64% of Democrats supported its closure.