It’s always been fascinating (and revealing) how people regard the core beliefs of our two major political parties. Not how they themselves vote, which is boring, but how they go about articulating the differences between the two parties when asked to do so.
Granted, there will always be those who insist there’s no real difference between Republicans and Democrats, that both parties are worthless, etc. But because we’ve had two separate parties for more than 150 years, there have to be certain basic, fundamental, differences between them, at least in principle, otherwise we wouldn’t have two of them.
Because I had access to a wide range of people, beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing until recently, I went around asking people to summarize the ideologies of our two political parties. Given that I’m a life-long Democrat I was curious and, frankly, discouraged, why so many bright young people seemed to be drawn to the Republican Party.
In order to have the respondents be as “objective” as possible, I asked them to pretend that they were being questioned not by me, but by a foreigner—by someone new to the United States who was genuinely curious about our political system. I told them to think of it as their civic duty to help this “foreigner” understand our two-party system.
So that was our conceit. Pretend a visitor (or newly installed U.S. citizen) from, say, Bangladesh or Estonia or Bolivia had posed this question: What are the fundamental ideological differences between the Democrats and Republicans?
The people I asked were mainly theater folks—actors, actresses, directors—blue collar workers, computer people, and mid-level management employees. I purposely avoided polling “old people” (which is to say, people like myself) because I was interested only in voters who planned to be around for the next forty or fifty years. Youngish people, those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
The responses to this admittedly imperfect inquiry were not only startling, but disturbing. In truth—if you happened to be a Democrat—they were downright demoralizing. No wonder we’re screwed.
In a nutshell, these youngish people described the Republican Party as being pro-business, pro-limited government, pro-increased personal responsibility, pro-lower taxes for everyone (including the rich), pro-national defense, and pro-local government (as opposed to the federal control).
By contrast, they depicted the Democrats as being the party of the “common man,” the party that favored higher taxes on the rich, increasing government “regulation,” giving more welfare to the poor, relaxing immigration laws, extending the rights of women, minorities and gays, passing stricter gun control laws, and guaranteeing women the right to an abortion.
Even people who claimed to be registered Democrats described their party in the manner I just mentioned. I’m not sure what I expected exactly, but this wasn’t it. The respondents not only made the Republicans seem zesty and energetic, they made them sound like a political entity which Voltaire and other French Enlightenment figures could embrace. By comparison, they made my Democratic Party seem not only drab and programmatic, but almost “punitive.”
If this is how these youngish people view American politics, we Democrats have a real problem. Maybe that’s why the Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the majority of state governorships.
If people do in fact regard the Republicans as the party that promotes personal freedom, the accumulation of wealth, and a minimum of government interference, and the Democrats as the party of the “common man,” that promotes social engineering and the redistribution of wealth, then we Democrats are desperately in need of a public relations facelift.
One sign that we are fresh out of ideas is the fact that we’re still flogging the New Deal as one of our prized accomplishments. As inspiring and beneficial as the New Deal undeniably was, on a timeline it is closer to the Civil War than it is to the 2016 election, which makes it wormwood. Continuing to boast of it only makes us look needy and pathetic, devoid of ideas.
While the Republicans have all the catchy, bullshit slogans: “Socialized medicine,” “the welfare state,” “the nanny state,” “death panels,” “tax and spend Democrats,” etc., my party seems to have only the New Deal and a bunch of “eat your spinach” solutions. No wonder we’re screwed.