The Republican Dilemma
I once asked Dad what the difference was between Republicans and Democrats. The year was about 1958. I had a short attention span, even for a kid just entering his teens, but here is what I remember.
Dad said Republicans generally favored government that left the people alone, except in cases of obvious public interest like war, taxes and regulating traffic and crime. The idea that he imparted to me was that it was none of anybody’s business how others chose to live their lives – as long as they didn’t harm others, of course, or interfere with others’ ability to live in freedom too.
I liked that. I could grasp that. “Live and Let Live”, he called it. Of what he said about Democrats, I remember even less.
Democrats didn’t trust people to do the right thing of their own accord, I guess, and so favored government programs that Republicans would call dangerous interference with rights and the economy. My folks were Republicans. “I Like Ike” was still a hot political slogan.
I knew there was a lot more going on than that. In 1953, Secretary of Defense Wilson had already said “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” In 1954 the country was still recovering from the mistrust sown by the McCarthy hearings. “Socialized Medicine” was a hot topic. And we had some friends of the family who were members of the dangerously radical Sierra Club. Delightful people, but “practically Communists”, my mother sniffed.
The Citadel, a 1937 novel by Briton A. J. Cronin, exposed the horrifying medical ethics in England that lead to the National Health Service there. It was still hot reading in the U.S.
There was a lot more going on I didn’t know much about yet. In the American South, and elsewhere in many northern states, there was a huge infestation of the pre-Civil War belief that constitutional rights only applied to “white folks”. It was like a bad case of leprosy that could not be healed with fresh air and bactericides. In the South, black Americans could not vote, could not attend the school of their choice, could not find gainful employment in any but menial occupations reserved for “the colored”; they could not sit just anywhere on a bus, and even the rest rooms and drinking fountains were segregated. If iron-handed state-sanctioned oppression and demeaning degradation were not enough, black Americans were being systematically beaten, murdered and lynched — and that was generally fine with many locals of both political parties (George Wallace was a Democrat). It was also fine with many local courts, juries, law enforcement system and enfranchised white populace who supported segregation at any cost.
I’ll never forget my astonishment as a soldier in the 1962 Cuban Crisis, when I and some friends dropped into a Key West diner on Sunday morning for some breakfast. We were in uniform, defending our country with missile batteries on the beaches of Key West. We were refused counter service – unless, that is, “our friend” was willing to eat back in the kitchen area. We left hungry.
Times have changed
In a dramatic 1987 court trial, Morris Dees won a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America, Inc. – bankrupting this local KKK chapter and sending a message to all hate groups. The judgment against the KKK was for the murder of Michael Donald, a black man picked at random for murder and lynching. The conviction came from an all-white jury in Mobile, Alabama.
The political parties have changed too. This should be no surprise, but it still is. My little slice of our historical time-line covers almost 50 years of slow change.
People change too. You can’t tar the entire Southern culture with the same brush as the terrorist KKK, any more than it’s accurate to say the North was uniformly a land of multicultural tolerance and guardian of individuality. Americans have moved on in many ways.
Today, it is politically incorrect to disparage a person on account of race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. But old prejudices don’t die with the times; they go underground. Yes, some people are capable of changing their mind. Mostly, real change occurs from generation to generation. That’s why change is so slow.
Today, there’s a Republican Identity Crisis. It’s vast, it’s a global concern, and it goes to the core.
Jumping ahead some 50 years to 2008, voters today face a ten-trillion dollar deficit. In fact, the national debt clock ran out of digits, and they had to substitute letters to represent the “one” in “$10,302,469,788,000” until they could expand the clock. In fact, at 70% of GNP, this is the highest since midterm in the Eisenhower administration – where this article starts, 50 years ago.
Go look at the clock and see how fast it’s ticking. We could use the national debt clock as a fan.
We all know the current Republican administration inherited a $100 billion surplus from the hated Clinton administration, and the Republicans managed that surplus all the way into a $700 billion deficit.
We all know something’s changed in the last 50 years. That profligate, reckless, free-spending Democratic Party had managed to reduce national debt and deficit in the years it held the White House. The fiscally “responsible” Republican Party always ran the bar tab back up to record levels. It doesn’t matter what party we belong to. We can all see it in the graphs.
If that’s not enough, in the past eight years:
- the health care system has descended further into dysfunction,
- nothing has been done about Social Security or Medicare and it’s getting worse,
- public education is foundering and almost third-world,
- fuel and gasoline costs are at record highs and we’re running out of options,
- we have one of the worst records on global climate change of any industrial nation,
- the money and banking system is a shambles,
- the unemployment picture is frightening,
- retail sales are a disaster,
- manufacturing output is down,
- gigantic national and multinational corporations are foundering,
- the war in Iraq has lasted longer than World War II with almost nothing to show for it,
- all our efforts to free Afghanistan are in danger of being overrun by the Taliban and Al Qaeda once again,
- there’s a new political surge to reduce or roll back minority rights gains in the U.S. of the last decade,
- and our moral faith and credit with our trading and defense partners in the free world is at an all-time credibility low.
Were you waiting for something else to convince you?
Here’s another thing the doctor ordered for the ailing patient: total economic meltdown.
- Who can forget the October 2008 stock market? After what is arguably the worst crash since the Great Depression, if you’re planning on retiring on a defined contributions plan (401K) in the next few years, your current options are (1) keep working (2) lower your retirement lifestyle and expectations or (3) don’t live so long. If you’re younger and building a retirement nest egg, your setback equals not only what you lost in the market but what it would have earned if reinvested.
Twice in my own working career, we’ve seen our meager assets reduced to 50% of their original value due to collapsing economic policies. We know what all this means for working Americans. The economy eventually recovers, but the lost time and savings never do.
What does it mean for Republicans?
The Republican Party has failed spectacularly. Maybe you’ve never voted Democratic in your life. If you ever do, this is the year to do it. This is nothing for the Democrats to crow about, even though they have a comparatively rational systematic plan to get us out of this mess, and a candidate who can lead us out of it – and even though the Republicans don’t.
Where did the Republicans go wrong?
The nominal cornerstone of Republican politics has always been a “free market economy“. There were other subtexts, but we’re not going to get into those directly. We’re looking for root causes. There were two reasons why the “free market economy” model failed.
Failed “Free Enterprise” Economic Model
(1) We never really had a free enterprise system at any time in the United States. Some fans and some detractors would call the decades of the “Robber Barons” an example of free enterprise. The “golden age” was indeed gilded – but low grade pot metal at its core. In fact, the gross “Capitalist” excesses of the period would not have been possible without blatant government subsidies and lopsided legislation to aid and abet their rise to absolute power.
If that model was ever to have worked, it would have had to function in a viable non-regulatory environment. Lacking regulators for insurance, money and banking, automotive and aviation safety, health care safety and accessibility, education, stock exchange (to name a few areas), the “free market” would have had to build a parallel infrastructure of self-regulation. The American Bar Association would have had to grow into an organization that lobbied for the interests and civil liberties of all Americans, not just its member attorneys. The AMA would have had to start defining a system of patients’ rights and accessibility, not just look out for the doctors – indeed, how successful could it have been if doctors today work 30 hour shifts?
All this theory sounds fine. How would it have worked in practice? The government would probably not have labs to test meats for salmonella and e coli, for example. But this does not mean foods would not have to be tested at least as rigorously – if the system was to work. Testing would be farmed out to independent labs for testing. The processing plants would still have to hold to the NASA-clean-room standard for processing. This would still have to be supervised by independent audits. In theory the industry could regulate itself, though it never took the initiative to do so on its own. In a free enterprise system (if there were ever to be one), industry would have to build its own regulatory infrastructure. This transference of government oversight would probably itself require government oversight. And it would have to work safely and reliably. Not because it’s a nice idea, but because you can’t tie food safety to a concept like the economic advantage of the producer. We don’t need melamine in our milk, and systems that allow that in any country will fail, as they should.
That private infrastructure largely never happened in the United States. There are some exceptions, like insurance and consumer testing institutions. But as we noted earlier, most professional associations are nothing more than unions and PR agencies for their professional members: doctors, lawyers, pilots. There is no credible private counterpart to the FAA, FDA, FCC, HEW, Federal Reserve, SEC, and the rest of the huge federal bureaucracy the free-enterprisers would like to simply dismantle with no thought as to what happens next.
We’re defenseless without our huge, bungling bureaucracy. Yet there is more talent and good works in the FAA than in all of the boardrooms on Wall Street. Despite setbacks and mistakes, NASA is a world role model for getting big things done right and done safely. God help us if all these socialist evils are ever dismantled by the men and ideologies that run America’s corporations today.
What we have today is what the economists call the “mixed economy” – partly unregulated, and partly and unevenly regulated to favor the pressure groups with the most money. Reform is slow because each party waits for the other to assume the responsibility for change, change that is then opposed.
Paradoxically, the American “mixed economy” model is being out-performed elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe, by economies unabashedly modeled on “socialism”. Americans no longer enjoy the highest standard of living, the best health care or educational systems, because other countries devised national systems that worked. The paradox is that theirs are more results-oriented, while the “country that knows how” flounders in finger-pointing and blamestorming.
(2) The classical free enterprise model assumes a constituency that is free. Think about it: that’s the definition. It wouldn’t work in a feudal economy, George. But there was never anything in our model to deal with the problems of racial discrimination, inequality of women and minorities in the voting place and economy, the right of people of different races to marry, or the many other paths toward a constitutional guarantee: “All men are created equal”. There was nothing in the model to protect us against the destruction and depletion of renewable or non-renewal resources in the environment. As a party, and as a collective of conservative-minded citizens, the Republican Party turned a blind eye to all these requirements of a renewable and viable civilization – all the time denouncing Democrats who raised the issues of inequality, injustice and environmental suicide.
What Americans today are starting to recognize is a feudal party that has no credible solutions of its own, but which opposes at every turn the efforts of others who see a solution and want to roll up their shirtsleeves and get to work fixing what’s gone seriously wrong.
The free enterprise model assumed that Americans could and would look out for themselves. Then its proponents rigged the system so that only the landed and moneyed could possibly do so.
The 2008 Choice
In all these years, the Democratic Party seems to have re-invented itself. At best, the Republican Party stood still. Some say it slid backwards down its own slippery slope.
In 2008 our only serious choice is between two candidates:
- One is an older man who shows no clear grasp of the economy, no clear grasp of what went wrong, and no clear or comprehensive plan for getting this country back on the road to prosperity, freedom and justice for all.
- The other candidate is a younger man who clearly grasps what’s gone wrong and who clearly articulates most of the framework of what will be required to get us out of it.
One of the most backhanded compliments to McCain is that he’s probably the most trustworthy candidate the Republican Party could recruit from within its ranks. You don’t see men like Warren Buffet or T. Boone Pickens lining up to represent the Republican Party. This is one of the few years when I couldn’t say the Republicans had a better choice. But it isn’t enough. According to the polls, slightly over 50% of the electorate doesn’t trust McCain. For all his faults – hotheadedness and a poor grasp of the economy and international diplomacy, to name two – McCain is no doubt a man who means well. The bottom line, though, is that he’s a man who has thoroughly invested himself for decades in failed Republican policy. A McCain White House will go nowhere without the influence and ideological support of a party that is itself bankrupted.
Then too, it would take a long time to forgive a party that has so warmly embraced and nurtured the support of advocacy groups who preach the politics of hate and intolerance.
We simply can’t endure four or eight more years of the same. We’ve run out of time to give the Republicans “another chance”.
I’ve heard three main reasons why people say they can’t vote for Obama.
(1) They’ve always voted Republican and they’re not going to change now.
(2) There’s something about Obama they “don’t trust”.
(3) They aren’t going to vote for a black man for President.
If you don’t take a bipartisan approach this year, you never will, and never can.
Between (2) and (3), I think (3) is more honest. If there’s something they “don’t trust”, but they can’t quite say what it is, it’s fair to assume (3) is the answer.
Early this year, I received a “FW: newsletter” from one of those people who presume the right to put you on a mailing list because they happen to have your email address. It said, “I certainly hope none of YOU are voting for Obama.” – and then went on some special-interest diatribe about medications.
This is like saying “I like goldfish and carp. If you like goldfish and carp too, you won’t put that one into the White House.” Come on. Something else is obviously going on.
Economics in A Nutshell
If you skipped through the paragraphs on “Free Enterprise Economic Model”, you’d be in good company. People don’t trust economic models. We’ve never had one that really worked. I’m going to tell you something you really should realize about economic models.
An economic model isn’t a “primary”. It’s a theory of commerce, trade and productivity based on a constitutional or legal model of individual rights.
If you understand the rights model, the economic model falls into place. The old Soviet Union had essentially zero civil rights. An economy modeled after that was called “totalitarian”. Citizens of a comparatively free country enjoy a more market-based economy (even in socialist countries). Why? Their country guarantees them a greater set of civil liberties.
The Republican notion of an economic engine leading the country into prosperity and freedom is the tail wagging the dog. Without freedom, there is no free market. Simple enough. So why have the Republicans forgotten what freedom really means?
Why I’m voting for Barack Obama
I don’t agree with all of a Democratic economic platform, but I do agree with its platform of civil rights for ALL Americans. It isn’t just a matter of “seeing the handwriting on the wall” – it’s the right stuff. This is the stuff on which the reconstruction of a strong and lasting economy always has to be based.
Strong and impartial enforcement of civil liberties for everyone is the simplest and fairest method of assuring everybody can participate in this wonderful union of ours to the fullest of their potential. It’s no coincidence that’s the best formula for a healthy, productive economy, either.
In other words, you can have a muddled, mixed economy with a strong bedrock foundation of individual rights, but a weak or uneven respect for civil rights cannot build a permanently strong economy based on any model.
Me, I’d rather have a free economy in a country where full and equal civil liberties were rigorously respected as a fundamental and unequivocal primary. That’s my disclosure, but I won’t see that in my lifetime. Your kids probably won’t either. Mark my words, no one will ever see a free economy in an unfree nation. Voting Republican to show support for democracy and freedom at this juncture in our country is just like the alcoholic who decides to go on one last big “toot” before drying out.
How good are you at fortune-telling? Did we really survive the Enron years? Or will 2008 be the year of the fatal “toot”?
The NRA model of Rights
Let me give you a really simple concrete example.
After military service, I took up the hobby of target shooting – rifle and pistol, paper targets. I joined the National Rifle Association because (in 1971) that was the best source of know-how about firearms, ammunition, reloading and other highly technical topics. I noticed right away that the NRA was also highly political, subjecting its members to poisonous no-compromise anti-Democrat tirades in every monthly magazine.
NRA polemics against “gun control” were (and are) embarrassingly infantile. Charlton Heston’s “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers” was about the worst. Mainly, I noticed that NRA members were rabidly and irrationally against anything Democratic. Mostly, they were also against blacks and minorities. The “n” word was almost a fraternity badge. At a gun show in 1992, I saw one booth advertising paper targets with a drooling cretin as the target, overprinted with the red “X” of “prohibited” or “ban this” fame – and the word “FAG” stamped on each target.
So, it’s “gun rights for rednecks” and the hell with everybody else. Why is this contrived, defamatory rhetoric warmly tolerated by the Republican Party?
In a nutshell, this little piece of Americana mirrors what’s gone wrong with the Republican party. A partisan cause took root without a sustainable underlying moral premise. When I protested to my friends that we couldn’t reasonably expect to have “gun rights” while denying others the right to work and vote, I was met with derision. Of course we could have our cake and eat it too!
What Do We Really Believe In?
Basically, I believe in individual rights, and I don’t believe they’re debatable – not just because our Constitution guarantees them, but because our Constitution affirms rights are by nature inalienable, and that we are all endowed with them.
What I do NOT believe is that race, gender or wealth can buy exclusive access to basic civil liberties and constitutional rights. I do NOT believe that millions may be thrown out of work in hard times, while a few quietly exit the companies they bankrupted, taking away millions in “golden parachutes“. Yes, we need to rebuild the money and banking system. But I do NOT believe that retirees should be asked to sacrifice their “golden years” while the government uses our $700 billion in tax dollars to bail out the banks and lenders who created the crisis in the first place, under our government’s watchful and approving eye.
I expect fairness and fiscal responsibility from my government. I expect a workable, coherent policy to turn the economy around, and to prevent a recurrence of the current disaster. I expect my government to stop behaving like a rogue nation and start working hand in hand with our partners all over the globe. I expect my government to stop turning a blind eye to injustice and intolerance at home. I expect my government to set the example among nations in reducing pollutants (like we last did in 1992 with chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC’s). I expect my government to work constructively with private enterprise to wean us from not only foreign oil but fossil fuel dependency wherever and as quickly as possible. And I expect us to finally get off the dime and go green-and-sustainable, full speed ahead.
Who would have thought the Democrats would become the party of “Live and Let Live”?
This Is The Year
Christopher Buckley (son of William F. Buckley Jr.), of the classically conservative National Review, says “He [Obama] is also a lefty. I am not. I am a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets. On abortion, gay marriage, et al, I’m libertarian. …”
Christopher Buckley is voting for Obama this year. Read why in his own article.
If there were ever a time to vote for a Democratic Candidate, this is the year. And if ever the Democratic Party offered us the choice of a qualified national figure and a program to work constructively with the congress to get us back on the right track, Barack Obama is that candidate.
That’s why I’m voting Obama in 2008.
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