By Michael T. McPhearson
After watching three debates between Gore and Bush, and part of one debate between Chaney and Lieberman, I clearly see the different visions the two parties have for the United States. It was obvious from the first debate and has been so for many years.
George Bush does a fantastic job communicating half the Republican story when he says that he trust us (citizens) to make decisions and that the Democrats think that government knows best. There is some truth to his claim. The Republicans want to put more of our hard earned dollars back into our hands through large tax cuts for everyone. With this money we can buy what we want, save what we want and invest if we want. The richest citizens will greatly benefit from the Republican plan because their tax cut in real dollars will be significantly higher than the vast majority of us. The thinking is that the richest citizens drive the economy. They will use this new cash flow to make more money, thus creating jobs, more tax revenue and a continuation of this unprecedented economic expansion. Democrats on the other hand propose smaller tax cuts. They want to use tax incentives to help citizens pay for college, save money, and buy homes. Democrats believe by shifting more of the tax burden to the richest citizens, middle-class citizens will have more money to spend. The government can help the middle-class by paying down the national debt quicker with the tax money kept from the smaller tax cut. This will keep interest rates down and give the government spending flexibility if there is an economic slow down.
I like the idea of having more money in my pocket to do as I see fit, but Gore’s plans are more responsible. Tax cuts and government spending stimulates the economy. Bush’s plan could actually heat up the economy and cause inflation.
On the education front, Republicans want to give citizens vouchers to help them pay for private schools. They ask why should only rich people have the opportunity to send their kids to private schools? Republicans want to put more federal money into local school systems without mandating how the money should be spent. They believe local officials know more than Washington D.C. bureaucrats about how the money should be spent. There has been talk of dismantling the Federal Department of Education and breaking teachers’ unions who protect incompetent teachers. Democrats do not like vouchers because it takes money from an already under-funded public school system and will leave students behind with fewer resources than before the plan. They also want to send more federal dollars to local school system but they want to ensure the money is spent effectively.
I think local school boards should decide how any federal money is spent because they should know their districts best. Vouchers are not good for the public school system. They will take money from school systems already in dire need. But what should parents do while their children languish in a broken system? Maybe the competition will shake the teachers’ unions and education bureaucrats up a little. Somebody needs a wake up call. But dismantling the Department of education is ridiculous. We need to have some type of national regulatory/advocacy agency to help ensure continuity and high standards across the board. It has been clearly demonstrated and still seems to be true that state government cannot be trusted to equally educate its entire people.
Social security most vividly illustrates the two visions of government in terms of the issues I have discussed thus far. Republicans want to privatize social security by allowing taxpayers to take their social security deduction and invest it as they see fit. Democrats believe that social security should act as a safety net because successful investments depend on economic expansion and a rising stock market. More importantly, even if the stock market continues to boom, not everyone’s investments will prosper. Most people rely on money managers, so called professionals, to handle their investments. Should citizens be penalized because they picked an inept investor? Finally those whose investments do not prosper will become a burden to the state. One way or another, we will pay to take care of them.
The other big issue on the two dominant parties’ agendas is medical insurance. There are differences, but I cannot discern anything that I consider to be major. Some people may get coverage in one plan earlier than in the other, or the threshold to qualify for government assistance may be a little higher in one plan than the other. Both candidates are proposing plans that take the treatment regime decisions away from number crunchers and return those responsibilities to the doctor, the patient and family. But neither party is addressing the more significant issue of 45 to 46 million citizens not having coverage at all, many of whom are the “working poor”. Any one of the plans may lower this number, but neither has laid out a plan to ensure all citizens have access to quality healthcare.
Bush eagerly contrast the few ideas Republicans put forth to give citizens choices with Democrats vision of an active government. He says, “I trust people to know what to do,” as if the Democratic Party’s plans are distrustful of citizens. Gore’s vision is one of government lending a helping hand in places he believes only government can. Remember we are the government. So when our tax dollars help, it’s like helping a neighbor, or at least trying to help.
But there is another side to the story that Bush, for self-serving reasons, and Gore, for reasons I cannot fathom, forget to tell. Gore may have a vision of continued government activism in our public lives, but Bush has a vision of a more intrusive government in our private lives. On these issues the differences are clear.
Republicans want to expand the role of religion in public life through government endorsement of Christianity. Some Republican legislators wish to hang the Ten Commandments in public schools and others want school led prayer in public school classrooms and football games. Yes, the majority of the country is Christian, but history shows that Christians had to flee Europe to this nation’s shores running from other Christians because of government oppression. I live in New Jersey, a state where Jews, Christians (Catholics and Protestants), Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Atheists and others all go to school together. The rest of the nation will soon look more like New Jersey than less. I believe the moral ethics of all the major religions should be a guiding force in our personal lives. But I also know that religion in the hands of government is a tool of division and oppression. The answer to religious harmony is not government endorsement.
What is more private than a person’s sex life and body? Republicans want to control both. Constant pressure is brought to bear at state and federal government to curb a woman’s right to determine if she should carry a fetus to term. Many Republicans would like to see Roe vs. Wade overturned completely. Instead of addressing the issues which may lead a women to decide to end her pregnancy in abortion, such as poverty, incest, economic opportunity and individual social responsibility, Republicans simply want to make it illegal and return to the days of Cider House Rules or coat-hangers.
Neither the Republican Party nor the Democrats want to recognize all adults right to declare their commitment to each other in the eyes of their God(dess) and or government by formally legislating equality of same sex marriages. The Republicans will block most any attempt to gain equal rights for and recognition of gay and lesbian relationships.
Free speech is the cornerstone of democracy. Republicans lead the charge to pass a Constitutional Amendment to criminalize desecration of the United States Flag. The House passed the Amendment and the Senate fell just 4 votes short of the two-thirds majority need. Forty-eight of the fifty-seven Senators who sponsored the failed joint resolution were Republicans. Yes the flag is an important symbol of our nation, but no symbol is more important than freedom of speech. I believe the reason speech is put front and center in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is to guard against congress passing such laws. This is precisely why Republicans seek to circumvent the Constitution with an Amendment to make it constitutional. The Bill of Rights was written to prohibit specific government actions. Flag desecration laws do not limit citizen’s and or government action against other citizens. They limit citizen’s speech choices against government. Is this the vision of a non-intrusive, citizen trusting government?
Da…. I don’t think so.
To make matters worse, it is possible that the next president may appoint three supreme courts judges. Judges interpret laws using the Constitution as their guide. Plessey vs. Ferguson, and the Dredd Scott decisions vividly depict how biases and authoritarian visions of government can lead judges to make the most absurd rulings.
The Republican Party has a long way to go before it can gain my confidence. I agree with some of their fiscal policies and approach to personal responsibility, but their social agenda is dangerous and anti-freedom. I kind of like George Bush, but he cannot control the far right conservative agenda of his party. Those forces are strong and well.
So, regardless of the outcome of the election there is a lot of work to be done. Government encroachment on personal freedom is a constant threat. If we continue to stand by and watch, voting and free speech will not be enough to change the actions of government. If we remain passive while others’ rights are taken away, we will need guns to keep our own.