The New Republican Ideal

Elucidating the differences between Democratic and Republican ideals is more complicated than one might expect, because individuals from either party vary in how completely they accept their party’s formal positions, and because in several ways the positions of both have reversed over time. At the same time, Republican beliefs have recently become so extreme that they contrast with ordinary sanity. Here are some standard talking points of today’s Republican Party ideal.

Individual responsibility. Is anyone against individual responsibility? No, of course not. Certainly not Democrats. Responsibility is the hallmark of adult behavior. However, individual responsibility as Republicans use the term essentially means a belief that public money must never be used by individuals, combined with a fear that somewhere there are people, particularly people of color, getting away with spending tax money instead of working. Individuals, they say, are to be responsible, especially, for their own insurance and retirement. The government is to have no part of what should be individual responsibility. Rather, the government should not meddle in our lives. Lost in this argument is the fact that virtually all Americans make use of governmental aid in an average of four ways.

There are three major problems with this:

  1. This is an extremely costly and inefficient way to provide insurance, particularly health insurance. Individual premiums are always high; costs with any national plan are always low. And the quality of national programs everywhere has been quite satisfactory.
  2. Republicans have no interest in providing wages that would realistically allow individuals to finance their own lives as they recommend, or even the more modestly defined Living Wage. Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that a young wage earner with a small family would have to earn more than $50/hr to finance these needs independently, whereas, for example, new wage earners in the automobile and other industries are making $14/hr, and Walmart workers start at $8.75/hr. Health insurance alone costs $7/hr minimum.
  3. There will always be those unfortunate people who are unable to provide for themselves because of ill health, accidental disablement, inability to find work, or simple bad luck. A Tea Party audience at a recent debate believed these people should be allowed to die, sounding pretty much like a rabid Roman crowd watching the lions kill gladiators. Although they don’t often say so, it appears that many Republicans share this belief. Democrats find this attitude to be cruel in the extreme, and wonder if these same people will feel this way when they have lost their job and their insurance because of factors beyond their control.

In all, absolute reliance on individual responsibility would turn us into a nation of self-contained, fortress-clad, firearm nuts, lacking compassion and the other things that have blessed our country from the beginning. Those whose luck has run out would simply die on the street.

Small government. Democrats surely agree that unnecessary, redundant, or inefficient governmental agencies should at minimum be modified. However, the Republicans want wholesale elimination of agencies such as EPA, Education, Census, etc., large organizations that are crucial to the intelligent operation of this nation of 310-million people. Without them, government and the populace would flounder in a sea of ignorance, lacking even basic information to guide policy and personal decisions. Their elimination would be idiotic. On the other hand, Republicans fight every dollar lost from Defense (which is virtually always offense, not defense), in an agency overgrown by at least 100%, and rife with old-boy contracts and useless programs costing billions and providing nothing.

Balanced budget, low national debt. This too is part of the Democratic ideal, moreso than the Republicans, whose normal mode is to increase spending and debt. But Republicans want to balance the budget during this time of fiscal crisis, a goal that can only make everything worse, particularly unemployment, and they want those who can least afford to, to pay for it. They want this because they believe that poor people of color are wasting government money while avoiding work and responsibility. However, most, but not all, of them are reluctant to say that out loud because such a position is blatantly racist.

Republicans in the past claimed to be the party of fiscal responsibility, but the exact opposite has been the case for a long time. The national economy has improved under every Democratic presidency and worsened under every Republican presidency for half a century or so.

I am again left wondering why anyone would think the Republican position is anything but inefficient, costly, wasteful, and cruel. Their goals, in the abstract, are not irrational. Democrats share them, at least to some extent. But the enactment of actions to meet these goals are based on false information, are shockingly ill-timed, and are utterly lacking in the compassion that is the mark of a mature and humane society.

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