Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Republican Policies

Maybe it's genetic; after all, my grandmother was a Communist, and my parents were progressive Democrats. Or maybe it's environmental; I live in Massachusetts--a place that evokes disdain in several regions of the country. Whatever the reason, I have always espoused what many would consider a liberal (another of those disdain-laden words), Democratic philosophy, but having turned 58 earlier this year (an age by which my beliefs were supposed to have become more conservative), I find myself desperately trying to understand the philosophy of the Republican party.

I no longer think that big business is bad (as I did when I was young). That would be somewhat hypocritical, given that most of my clients throughout my career have been very large companies. I also now understand the value of the CIA and the Defense Department, although I feel that their efforts have sometimes been misguided. I now read several newspapers and magazines with moderate perspectives (as opposed to Mother Jones, to which I subscribed in my younger years), and I watch CNN as opposed to MSNBC, to get a more balanced perspective (although I still can't force myself to listen to the vitriol offered on Fox News).

Having said all that, I still have several issues with Republicans and their views of government:
  • Republicans have always believed that big business is good for America. They are the party that has favored "trickle down" economics and tax cuts for the wealthy and the large corporations. It was, after all, George W. Bush who initiated the bank bailout of 2008-09, without which most economists agreed that the world would have plunged into a second Great Depression. That may have been the last thing anyone has done that had substantial, bipartisan support, so why do the Republicans seem to vilify Obama for that bailout, and the subsequent stimulus packages that poured billions more into the economy? On the day that Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell below 8,000; last week, it exceeded 13,000. Can anyone tell me how that is bad for big business or the economy?

  • Along those same lines, the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has decried the government bailout of the US auto industry, which was initiated by Bush and continued by Obama. However, that industry has rebounded faster and stronger than anyone anticipated, and the "big three" have already paid back most of what was lent them. So, how is this bad for America?

  • Switching to social issues, the latest attack has come because Obama favors full contraception insurance coverage for female employees at religiously affiliated institutions. Republicans claim that this policy abridges the first amendment, which begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." To me, the connection between these two concepts is highly questionable, but forgetting that, let's consider the following realities: most Catholic hospitals exist in inner-city settings or near Hispanic communities, where the employees are likely to be less affluent than their counterparts at the larger, secular, teaching hospitals. If they can't afford contraception and abortion is taboo (another misguided Republican principle), then the only option is to have more unwanted babies born into families with limited means to support and care for them. How, exactly, is this good for America? Obama placated the Republicans by backing off on this issue, but they still rally around it.

  • Along those same lines, I don't understand why the Republicans are so opposed to the health care plan they deride as "Obamacare." Prior to 2008, a huge majority of Americans clamored for health care that would prohibit insurers from: (A) imposing lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits, (B) excluding pre-existing medical conditions, (C) charging co-payments or deductibles for preventive care, and (D) establishing annual spending caps. The new health plan prohibits all of those actions while insuring 32 million previously uninsured Americans. In addition, it is administered by insurance companies and not the government, a provision upon which Republicans insisted. A very similar, even stronger plan already exists in Massachusetts (as introduced by Romney), and it works; costs have not risen significantly and health care has improved. So why do the Republicans, including Romney, vow to repeal the national health plan?

  • I still don't understand how a party can claim that life is too sacred to allow abortions, while favoring the death penalty and opposing restrictions on handguns and assault rifles. The gun lobby consistently cites the second amendment, which reads, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." They cling to the second part of that amendment while completely neglecting the phrase, "well regulated," instead claiming that any effort to regulate gun ownership is unconstitutional. Let's put aside the constitution for a minute and focus on common sense...a line must be drawn somewhere, or we would allow normal citizens to own bazookas, grenade launchers, military vehicles, fighter jets, or nuclear weapons. Clearly, we don't allow that, so why can't we limit handguns and assault rifles? I don't know anyone who uses them on hunting expeditions. However, despite Republican protestations that Democrats are out to take away their guns, Obama has been silent on this issue.

  • Let me move on to the issues related to "family values"...specifically gay marriage and a woman's reproductive rights. With regard to gay marriage, it wasn't so long ago that many states banned interracial marriage, but now the president is a product of such a marriage. It all falls under the "if-you're-not-like-me-then-you-must-be-wrong" approach that many Americans seem to favor. It's silly to tell someone whom they can't love, and Republicans should stop grandstanding to people's basest instincts and take the high road. With regard to women's reproductive rights, it amazes me that the same party that derides government regulation, so strongly favors regulating what a woman does with her body. The fact is that Republicans preach family values while allowing a snake like Newt Gingrich to run for president...a well-documented philanderer who divorced his wife when it was revealed she had cancer so he could marry the woman with whom he'd been cheating. I will say that Romney and Santorum both appear to be dedicated husbands and fathers, but no more so than Obama and several gay couples I know.

  • So that leaves foreign policy. Obama promised that in his first term, he would end the war in Iraq and take steps to do the same in Afghanistan. He has followed through on those promises while ensuring continuity by initially retaining Bush's defense secretary and joint chiefs of staff. In the meantime, he ordered the killing of Bin Laden and many of Al Quaeda's top operatives. The main difference between Obama and Republican contenders is his realization that the era of American economic dominance is coming to an end and that we are already heavily indebted to China, which has four times our population. Consequently, he has shifted our global approach away from the jingoistic bluster of the 20th century to a softer stance of partnership and collaboration.

In addition, it's interesting to note that while the Republican party claims to be better suited to address the economy, history doesn't support that claim. Indeed, every major recession or depression of the 20th century occurred during a Republican administration while every recovery was overseen by a Democrat. Furthermore, while Republicans claim to be best suited to balance the budget, the last three Republican administrations (Reagan, Bush, and Bush) have all substantially increased the national deficit. To the contrary, Carter reduced it, and Clinton eliminated the debt and actually created a surplus. It's true that the Obama administration has ballooned the national deficit, but he had inherited the worst economy in 80 years, and only now can he start to reduce spending.

So there you have it. I should point out that I voted for Mitt Romney for governor. Back then, he was a socially progressive Republican, but now he is, in his own words, "severely conservative." It's almost like a contest to see which candidate can placate the extreme right wing of a party that already has limited prospects for 2012. I keep envisioning children arguing about who is most conservative ("Well I'm mega ultra severely conservative"). I should also refer you to the several discussions I've had with liberals who believe that Obama has turned his back on them, and how there is no difference between the two major parties.

I don't believe that any more than I believe that all Republican ideas are bad. It's just that somewhere in the last 30 years, the party took a wrong turn, ignoring what's best for America and focusing instead on what's good for me (whoever "me" might be). I dream of an America in which Santorum might say, "Mitt, that's a great idea," or Romney might admit that his foreign policy isn't much different from Obama's. Effective negotiation starts by recognizing areas of common ground, so why can't that principle be applied to politics? Of course, that goes both ways, and Democrats have to stop sniping as well. But in order for that to happen, Republicans have to adopt more realistic policies that are acceptable to most Americans, not just those who are "severely conservative."