BY CHRIS GIOVINAZZO
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS A strange marriage between the Religious Right and people who care much more about fiscal and foreign policy. I intentionally used the word “marriage” because, like all liberals, I’d like to water that term down to the point of meaninglessness and thereby destroy everything that is good about our world. (Just kidding, that was just a little digression.)
Anyway, to generalize, top policy priorities for the religious right usually include most or all of the following:
* Prohibition of abortion.
* Editing the Constitution to correct the Founder’s gross oversight in failing to ban gay marriage preemptorily.
* Opening courthouses and federal facilities to large stone renditions of the Ten Commandments.
* A firm stance against the as-yet unproven science of evolution, a theory which remains in doubt for many Americans and at least one or two biologists.
* Restricting sexual education to the only proven contraception technologies that prevent STDs and pregnancy, i.e. abstinence and the rhythm method.
As you might have guessed, I’m of a slightly different mind on these topics. But I respect that deep religious conviction drives many of these Republicans. And they have every right to have a leading voice within the Republican party.
But here’s my question. Why are the rest of you voting with these folks? You know who you are. You’re the libertarian Republicans. You’re the people who shake your heads right along with me when Republican mobs pray on the steps of the Alabama Supreme Court. You don’t like most of the religious right’s positions and you think some of them are borderline wacko. But you vote Republican anyway.
I know why you think you vote Republican. You figure, “I don’t care much for all that. But there are more important issues. Putting up with the right-wing crap is a necessary evil because Republicans are fiscally sound, pro-free trade, and stronger on foreign policy and defense.”
Yes, I believe that’s a fair summary of your viewpoint. And my goal here is to plead with you to come to your senses. I cede no ground to Republicans on issues of social policy. But let’s focus on the economic and defense issues you care about. The fact is, you should be voting for the Democrats even if the social issues didn’t exist. And you are buying into epithets – “tax and spend” and so on – that have been obsolete for years. Here’s a quick review.
Responsible fiscal policy. Huge deficits under Reagan and Bush I turned into the largest surpluses ever under Clinton. In three short years, Bush II brought back the deficits. Even with control of Congress, Bush cut no spending other than symbolic, trifling cuts in minor domestic programs.
Bush expanded Medicare using ludicrously low cost estimates. Yes, the Democrats wanted a better benefit, but unlike the Republicans, they cared about paying for it. Democrats proposed price caps, negotiated volume discounts and other cost controls. The Bush bill didn’t. It was a drug industry hand-out.
Bush’s Social Security proposal – private accounts without reduced standard benefits – would require a massive infusion of money. And remember the National Endowment for the Arts and sending humans to Mars. Face it: the party of fiscal responsibility is the Democratic party.
Free trade. Clinton signed GATT and NAFTA. George W. Bush passed steel and textile tariffs. Bush and the Republican Congress also passed the largest agriculture subsidies in our history and tried to pass the largest energy subsidies in our history. Yes, Democrats talk about “fair trade” and appeal to labor, but their proposals are by and large moderate and not protectionist. Protectionist flare-ups are at least as likely to come from the Pat Buchanan crowd. The records of the parties’ top leaders are clear. Clinton and Kerry are free traders; Bush is not.
Taxes. Look, if you just hate all taxes as a matter of principle, voting Republican makes some sense. But your real gripe is with spending. At some point, you can’t just cut taxes without cutting spending. That doesn’t work in Argentina and it can’t be U.S. policy for long.
Yet the Administration has cut taxes massively and structurally with no credible plan for reigning in spending. Bush’s ridiculous spin on his tax plan has been even worse. Doesn’t your stomach turn when Bush argues dishonestly that his regressive, long-term, back-loaded tax cuts create jobs (negative two million new jobs and counting)? And do you remember just three years ago when Bush promised his tax cuts would only cost a fourth of the (imaginary) ten trillion dollar surplus? This Administration distorts not only economic data but basic economic principles.
Defense. I’ll leave Iraq for the foreign policy section. Other than Iraq, how does Bush distinguish himself from Kerry on this topic? The budget deficit of Bush’s own making has forced us to underfund specific homeland security programs. Bush hasn’t adequately supported unglamorous programs critical to our defense, such as port security or a large scale effort to buy back nuclear material. Instead, Bush’s gargantuan military budget includes billions of dollars for Cold War weapons with no relation to the threats we now face, including
* The F-22: finally a solution to our air-to-air combat weaknesses.
* The Osprey: useful as a constant reminder that plane-helicopter hybrids are incredibly unsafe.
* Missile Defense: the most advanced technology yet devised to shoot at and narrowly miss Pentagon test-missiles.
Let’s get our defense priorities straight. Bush looks commanding and talks tough, but that’s just not enough.
Foreign policy. Despite the incredible world support for the United States following September 11, even our allies can’t stand us less than three years later. That makes achieving all of our foreign policy goals difficult. The Administration either intentionally lied about or grossly misanalyzed the size – indeed, the very existence – of Iraq’s weapons arsenal.
We invaded anyway of course, and you might still think that decision had merit. But did we need to spurn the world community with such disdain, leaving us carrying the entire load in Iraq? John Kerry doesn’t want to run away from Iraq; he wants to entice the world to rejoin the effort, and to return credibility to U.S. foreign policy. What does Bush offer instead? The Administration had no credible plan for post-war Iraq. What makes you think Bush is the best leader for a complex nation-building effort?
Old habits die hard. It may be hard to stomach voting for people with a “D” next to their names. But let’s get real here: people like you and me can’t take this anymore.
Chris Giovinazzo‘s column appears bi-weekly.