Being a registered Independent has generally worked out well for me. I feel no guilt when I vote for a Republican that I like, or a Democrat who I think will get the job done. No one bothers trying very hard to tell me what I should think. And bonus - it cuts down on the number of uninvited phone calls demanding donations.
Independence, of course, has its downsides.
You don't get to take part in those nifty caucuses or vote in primaries, unless you change your affiliation for the occasion (and when moved enough, I have). Independents never have an awesome BBQ. We have no t-shirts, unless you count those rude "Everybody Sucks 2016" designs. You get no yard signs for being Independent, and I have some bare spots on the lawn that could use hiding. No convention, no confetti.
In fact, you don't even get to call yourself Independent - officially, Iowa does not recognize that as a thing, and counts you as "No Party."
And worst of all, you always get the uncomfortable sensation that you are being looked down upon by both Democrats and Republicans, possibly even Libertarians, whatever they may be.
They tend to see Independents as wishy-washy fence sitters, unwilling to commit to a philosophy, trying to have the best of both worlds without carrying their fair share of the load.
One writer once compared politicians campaigning to Independents as being like herding cats. We're hard to predict, easy to offend, we tend to ask annoying questions about results instead of accepting rhetoric snd nifty slogans.
On thing, probably the only thing, that Democrats and Republicans can agree on is their distaste for Independents. Like the second cousin sleeping on your couch all summer, we just don't belong.
News flash, however, there are more of us than there are of you. In Iowa there are around 725,000 registered Independents - considerably more than there are either Republicans or Democrats. Does that surprise you?
Most Republicans vote for Republicans. Most Democrats vote for Democrats. Their candidates preach to their respective choirs. It's the Independents, and the new voters, who decide races.
It should also tell you something. For the largest segment of potential voters, neither political party has earned our trust fully.
One thing about being a lowly Independent, it gives you an interesting, fairly objective view of the inner writhings and gnashing from both sides of the aisle. We're not blinded by emotion, or gang mentality.
Presidential campaigns come and go. Parties exchange power back and forth, and the blame that comes with it. There are always lies, character assassination and enough mudslinging to make us all glad when it's finally over.
But I've never seen anything as rabid as this campaign year is shaping up to be. Any pretense of respect for free discourse and difference of opinion is shot all to hell now.
Maybe it's social media, but just maybe, it's us. Maybe the ability to sit behind a computer and express ourselves in the effortless form of passing along someone else's memes makes it easier to be abusive, as opposed to having to talk face to face or actually write down a reasoned thought.
Or maybe we've just gotten mean. Some of the things people say about the candidates - not issues, but vile things... if someone was saying that about your father, or mother, you'd run screaming for a lawyer or possibly take a ball bat to them.
How many times have you seen it already on social media? - either worship my candidate, or unfriend me right now.
I have friends who are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, and I cherish them. I have friends who are dedicated Democrats, and they mean the world to me. I have friends who don't know what they are, and friends who don't vote at all. I didn't "friend" them so they would agree with my politics. I hope they friended me because we can talk about things openly and at the end of the day, still be friends.
I'm not about to give up a friendship, most of them years in the making, over any candidate or political party. I may not agree with what you say, but I will respect your right to say it.
Yes, there is a lot at stake in an election which will decide the direction of our leadership for four years.
There might be even more at stake with the loss of our civility toward each other, forever.