Monday, September 15, 2008

Fear of Unity: Why I'm Disheartened About The Republican Party

Before I begin: I consider myself an independent, but because of my personal beliefs and my more pragmatic approach to politics, I wind up aligned (most of the time) with the Democratic Party.

That being said, I find myself a lot more invested in the Republican party than most Democrats (or fellow-travelers). There's two reasons for this, and they are interlinked.

I am what most people would call a Democrat, but I don't fall lock-step into the party platform. And therefore, although I want there to be Democrats in Congress, I do still want there to be Republicans (or oppositional Democrats, or Independents) which represent issues on which I disagree with the Democrats. For instance: the Democrats have made a lot of issues of change part of their platform, but fiscal responsibility is still not their strongest suit (they're doing better, in my mind, than the Republican Party in general, but it's not the top of their agenda). Between the sum of two or more parties, all of my desires will be represented in the dicussions of Congress.

The second reason, which is tied into the first, is that I don't ever want one party to rule. Even if it's the party I support. Even if it was a party led by Barack Obama, taking completely his words to be law. And believe me, I'm excited about Barack Obama. But I want Obama to feel the opposing force of dedicated, intelligent conservatives. Opponents who will correct the flaws in Obama's policy, and make it better for the criticism.

Which is why right now, I'm disheartened by the Republicans. When I went into Primary Season, I hoped against hope that John McCain would win. Instead, he lost. He may be the nominee, but the ideas and platform that I remember supporting John McCain for got lost. Very early in the primary, my support for him was destroyed.

I want two parties who agree on one single principle: the truth is important. I was fiscal conservatives who agree on the hard truth that we don't have an infinite credit card; I want socialist-leaning candidates who agree on the truth that taking care of the poor is necessary. I want people who can agree that nothing is absolute, and that both sides of the issue merit examination.

I was thrilled that Obama came out on this side, because I believe he believes in the truth, in consistency, in good governance, and in dialogue.
And the old John McCain believed in that. The new John McCain hides his VP from the press, lies and lies and lies, hews to whatever opinion is popular, and in general acts with a total disregard of the truth (Harry Frankfurt's definition of Bullshit).

By the end of the primary season, I was rooting for two ponies in the Primary Season. One was Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, to a certain degree, is not my favorite man in the world: I think that his social conservatism is a holdover from an age we should leave behind. I refuse to accept anything less than equal rights for all genders and sexualities. But on the other hand, Huckabee came across as a thinking social conservative. He has always been respectful of Obama (the only one at the Republican Convention with anything nice to say) and of his Republican enemies (at a time when Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani were content to question patriotism and adherence to Reagan). I can imagine that if Mike Huckabee were to take the Presidency and the Democrats retain their hold on Congress, social issues might continue to be a mess but things like health-care reform and poverty issues would be able to be discussed in a bipartisan manner. I can't prove, of course, that Mike Huckabee might not get McCained, and I am extremely unhappy at the fact that he (unlike my other pony in the race) was willing to be at the Republican Convention and tout McCain at all.

But I don't believe in vilifying enemies unless they actually are villains, and certainly I think we'd have a healthier national discussion right now if Mike Huckabee was the VP candidate rather than this Sarah Palin character.

The other horse I had in the race is Dr. Ron Paul. Dr. Paul, like Mike Huckabee, attracted a significant base (in many areas, up to 15%, like Huckabee) of people who strongly agreed with him and believed in him personally. Paul, like Huckabee, is not prone to baseless character assassination. Paul, like Huckabee has a sense of humor (which you should never underrate in a politician--a lack of a sense of humor indicates a lack of a sense of perspective).

It is disgraceful of the Republican Party, by the way, that this group simply get ignored and dismissed. No representation in the Republican Convention, unless they want to be sycophantic and fall in step behind John McCain. I suppose it is his party, but what has the party done to appeal to Paul's movement? Considering all of the pandering which goes on toward the evangelicals (such as the Palin nomination).

And who is Dr. Paul's movement fueled by? Dr. Paul speaks to a group that I want more represented in politics: Libertarians. My brother is a Ron Paul libertarian, and we have discussed this at length. One of our debates centered around the Internal Revenue Service, which Dr. Paul wants to get rid of in lieu of a flat sales tax. Now, I disagree with the flat sales tax. On the other hand, Paul wants a simpler, more straightforward, less loophole-prone tax code. Even us big-government socialist Democrats can see the virtue in that, for many reasons (one of which being the fact that a complicated, time-consuming tax code winds up costing the poor and benefiting the rich). There's common ground. We can work together.

Another discussion: healthcare. Now, libertarians, in general, don't believe that everyone should be forced to have healthcare. I suppose I agree with that... if someone is determined that they don't want health insurance, that (I suppose) is their right. Now, if someone wants not to insure their child I'm more against that. One of the points my libertarian brother raised, however, is that the problem isn't that people don't have health-care, it's that healthcare is too expensive for people to have. Therefore, finding out how to lower the price of healthcare and increase its efficiency is the first step. If you lower the price of health insurance, then less people would need help paying for health insurance. And then we can discuss who the government should help in terms of health insurance.

Democrats may be too blinded by their drive for an English-style National Health Service to realize that it is just as important to lower the prices of medical care than to help pay for it. And that's something that I hadn't thought of. Libertarians had. Probably because they have a lot of economists on their side.

Now, I'm unhappy about this upcoming election because the Republican Party still seems rather lock-step behind the Neoconservative movement that I thought had proven itself bankrupt. The problem with neoconservatism isn't necessarily their platform (although certain parts of the platform are extremely unpleasant to me and to people of my political background), it's the ideology of the background. Neoconservatives are not out to govern better. They are out to pass their agenda. Compromise has not been in their history. We need compromise. We need thoughtful conservatives, not ideological conservatives.

I actually feel the same, in reverse, on a state level. My home state of California has a very bankrupt politics as well. If you don't know, a few years ago we had a Governor named Gray Davis. He promised a lot of money for a lot of things during the years when we had a huge surplus, and then the state got defrauded by the energy market he deregulated (read: Enron), the tech bubble boomed, and he rolled back parts of his platform. The state now has ballooning debt, and is governed by Governor Schwarzenegger, who replaced Davis.

The problem with California is two-fold. The major problem is the initiative system. The initiative system is a great system for passing laws, but because of a lack of distinction between laws and government programs, the voters get to directly propose and vote on government programs--in essence, the budget is decided by popular vote. And as you might expect, the California voters continue to vote to spend more money and take in less taxes.

This is a ridiculous situation. Nobody will tell the voters otherwise, because if they do, they'll lose their office immediately. But it is necessary to balance the budget. You cannot run a government with a broken fiscal system, any more than you can run it with a broken political system.

The second problem is the Democratic Party of the State of California.
When Gray Davis was being recalled, there was an strange method: on the same ballot was two separate votes:

vote 1: Recall Gray Davis?
vote 2: Who would you like to replace Gray Davis?

The latter vote being dependent on the first being passed. Now, from the perspective of the Democratic Party, they need to run a candidate in the latter. It obviously can't be Gray Davis. Now, common sense would dictate that you should support Gray Davis, and find someone else (plausibly distinct from Davis) to run for vote 2.

Instead, the Democrats ran Bustamante, the Lieutenant Governor, who ran on a platform of "I promise to continue Gray Davis' platform."

Well, that was stupid. Obviously, once the recall passed, a majority of Californians were against continuing Gray Davis' platform. And since the Democrats didn't give them any other option, they got to choose between Schwarzenegger and Ariana Huffington (Independent), or a Republican who was even more conservative than Schwarzenegger). Clearly, Schwarzenegger would win. But this gave poor Schwarzenegger the mistaken idea that he had a mandate to try and balance the budget. And ever since then, he's been at war with the bureaucracy of the state of California, and with the people who supported him.

And it has been several years since then. The only opponent who has come against Schwarzenegger was Phil Angelides (Davis' treasurer), who was just as equally unpopular. He turned out to be a crooked character too. So the question is: why can't we do better, Democrats? Schwarzenegger wants to balance the budget. This is something that needs to be done. Democrats will not win any battles by saying we should continue ridiculous debt spending. Instead, they need to confront Schwarzenegger and say, "Yeah, he wants these things, but we can deliver it. We can negotiate; Schwarzenegger can only threaten."

So until then, I support Governor Schwarzenegger's ridiculous guerilla tactics against the Teacher's Union and the state legislature. Schwarzenegger may not be the best politican we could have asked for, but he's the only one in the state taking things seriously. Where is the Democratic Party? Who else are going to tackle those problems?

We live in a two-party system in this country. That means we need both parties. And the better each party is, the better our country will be.