Editorial: A Non-Partisan Look at the Spirit of the Democrat and Republican Platforms





http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/politics/gop_2004platform.pdf  (You may have to be a registered NYTimes user; later the GOP will publish this on its own site.)


Robin Toner and David D. Kirkpatrick provided an interesting analysis, “Social Conservatives Wield Influence on Platform: in the Aug. 31, 2004 The New York Times. They include a comparison table (on the print version P4) on Republican and Democrat positions on (1) The War in Iraq (2) Tax cuts (3) Gay marriage (4) Abortion (5) Stem cell research, and the website contains only a graphic replication so it is not easy to reproduce here.


As always, the platforms have to deal with the perception that some Americans will have to give up some of the freedoms or interest to help others or to protect the common interest, and platforms tend not to say anything like that in bald-face language.


Newbie-by-recall California Governor Arnold Scwarzenegger (out of  Tinseltown, like Ronald Reagan) summed up everything by saying:


“If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican. If you believe that a person should be treated as an individual, not as a member of an interest group, then you are a Republican.”


But if we wall through a number of the platform items we notice a certain curious duplicity.


First, let’s start with the War on Terror. The Republicans (or perhaps Republicrats!) are in a position of defending the war in Iraq. It is not a forgone conclusion that this war was not necessary, because, even without finding WMD’s, Saddam Hussein could well have been trafficking stolen WMD items from the remnants of the Soviet Union, and I don’t know why the Bush administration doesn’t share this. But the Democrats are right to take the longer, intellectually challenging view. Freedom can never be taken for granted—and that statement is what can lead to individual personal sacrifice, ultimately. The threats are different kinds of entities, and different ideologies. We have been threatened by fascism (including neo-Nazism in the form of McVeigh), communism (including radical Luddite anti-modernism in the form of the Unabomber), and radical Islamism. All three ideologies have posed threats that could end our way of life was we know it. (I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis quite well). The form of the enemy is what is more controversy. In the mid 1990s, we saw the main threats as North Korea, Iran, and possibly breakdowns in Russia or China with reversion to earlier, aggressive communism. Now we understand the danger of a well-organized but decentralized “non State” terror entity. The effectiveness of this entity seems to be a corollary of globalization and technology—the same forces that make it possible for me to reach a wide audience with little supervision or capital.


The Republicans have focused on their own agenda—Iraq, and very troubling measures at home (the Patriot Act) that pose contingent threats to civil liberties. The Republicans seem opportunistic. The Democrats are in a position to demand more intellectual honesty. This is understandable. Neither party has been forthwith about what America might have to go through to survive were there really to be a series of nuclear or major radiological or biological incidents (or a number of really catastrophic national disasters—losing New Orleans for good is just one). Both parties still want to keep the all-volunteer Army, but Bush has given in to a kind of “back door” draft. Neither party is prepared to jump into the pandora’s box that we know as “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military (or how a draft would affect it). The entertainment industry may get to this before the politicians do. However the Democrats want to help military families. The term “shared sacrifice” that Ross Perot used in the 1992 debates has become unpleasant for politicians to mention.


Next, let’s back in to the domestic policy economic issues. The Republicans insist on their tax cuts, favoring the rich more. The Democrats make the interesting statement that the economy should reward work as well as the deliberation accumulation of generational wealth. That sounds like a moral judgment, and a sound one. We are more likely to trust a person who can pay his or her own way with real skills, when wealth could be wiped out by some unspecified disaster. Yes, jobs are eliminated by automation and offshoring;  companies need to do a better job in designing new jobs that aren’t just exercises in hucksterism, and individuals need to keep their skills up to compete in a global world with a lower standard of living . But the Republicans insist that the tax code should not be designed to redistribute wealth or to play Robin Hood. This sounds a bit in contradiction to the new religious-right base of the Party, when you go back to the days when the early Christians held property in common. In fact, it sounds refreshingly libertarian. But the real intention is to use family responsibility as a way to restore social justice and balance.


Before moving on, we note that our whole culture may be heading for an international train wreck with its disproportionate use of fossil fuel resources and global warming, but the Republicans are right in that one should be able to develop new sources of energy and infrastructure without harming the environment if one is determined enough. On other issues, like health care, the Republicans are right in calling for more freedom of choice, and freedom from frivolous litigation, as well as plans to let small employers share lower group rates, and more personal medical savings accounts. On health care, by the way, the really could be a potential economic boon from a single payer system (neither platform endorses it), but the impact of such a system on personal choice and even family obligations (below), would have to be evaluated carefully.


If you look at the wording of Republican positions on stem cell research and abortion, you get the impression that Republicans believe that their pro-life position is a simple human rights position. In fact, there are pro-life libertarians. Now, personally, I have trouble believing this position when describing the unborn a few hours or days after conception. I think there is more going on here. The pro-choice position for a certain portion of pregnancy, as well as the thoughtful design of stem-cell research (as spoken for in recent public service announcements by Christopher Reeve, sometimes joined by Smallville star Tom Welling) has always made more sense to me.


There is probably a more subtle paradigm at work.. If a particular person (born or not) has a fundamental right to life, demands, even sacrifices, can be demanded of free adults to support that right to life. That is what leads back to the whole issue of family values and marriage—and gay marriage.


The Republicans want to ban gay marriage and even gay civil unions by constitutional amendments. The Democrats are pragmatic here, wanting the social experimentation to remain with the states. But look further here. The Republicans claim to be against redistribution of wealth, so they seem to have no problem with talented gays who are publicly successful in any endeavor (outside of the military), as long as they don’t need social services and can really fend for themselves. (And, yes, within the gay male population, HIV has over the past decade or so become more manageable.)  But the Democrats will win the contest on intellectual honesty when they speak about “equal responsibilities” for all families, because the debate on gay marriage (and perhaps gay adoptions and gay custody) must be linked to the related problem of family responsibility, which some gay men (like me) have spent many years escaping. Family responsibility invokes areas ranging from falling birth rates to eldercare (the G.O.P. platform proposes tax credits to help with the “sacrifice” required for at-home eldercare), and it invokes the notion of lifetime sexual fidelity to one partner and the old-fashioned cultural importance of blood relationships and lineage, which has taken a beating in the past three decades of growing individualism. In practice family responsibility mediates the expressive choices many people can make with their own lives. If one really is true to the “no redistribution” idea, one would make marriage a private contract between any two consenting adults. Legal recognition of marriage implies privileges that those who do not get legally married must help subsidize and sometimes even sacrifice for. Be honest about this. 


This leads us back to a common denominator of all social policy that deals with personal freedom and social justice issues. That is, everyone should be accountable for their own actions, and accountable to others, particularly when they move out of the mainstream with their own ideas. Being harmed or disadvantaged does not justify doing wrong oneself or, by itself, create an automatic social entitlement.


It used to be that social and political struggles materialized between large interest groups, racial or national or religious classes, and were dealt with in groups. That still happens today (particularly with respect to religion now), but moral issues today seem to derive much more from differences in competitive abilities and efforts among individuals. Freedom should mean doing what we want in a harmless fashion, but responsibility to and for others can be a subtle matter. Some individuals, such as black conservative Alan Keyes in a recent radio talk show where he tied homosexuals and gay marriage to “selfish hedonism” want to reduce personal morality to the basic motivations of sexuality and tying sexuality to procreation and a willingness to take the risk of raising a family. Keyes ignores that unconventional adult commitments can be loving and lifelong and sacrificial, too, but his statements bring us back to questioning what boundaries make a person’s life truly his or her own.


©Copyright 2004 by Bill Boushka

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