We seriously need to talk.
As you’re already aware, I’m not likely to vote for you. I just registered as a Democrat for the first time after having been an independent for many years and having lived in a state that doesn’t register by party. Despite my liberal views, I have always been skittish to align with the Democrats or any other party, my rationale being that I will consider any reasonable viewpoint regardless of its source (and conversely, not accept an irrational stance just because I like who said it). I’ve always held a healthy respect for the belief that a smaller, streamlined government has its merits. And I respect that many citizens are inclined toward conservative values via the same careful consideration through which I realized my own views. And in the end, we’re more alike than different in our wants and needs.
And yet, here I am, registering as a Democrat. Why? Well, it’s certainly not because I like everything the party does. But I also see considerable merit in that camp. And I frankly can’t in good conscience call myself an independent. That would imply that I am able to toggle the virtues of both sides. And that used to be true. But it isn’t now.
The ability to understand opposing viewpoints is a basic requisite for any journalist, as it should be for any human being. Which is why I want to ask of you, Republicans, as a party:
Why do you hate people?
Now, don’t be so quick to dismiss that as a glib question, such as the one people like me sometimes get asked when earnestly expressing a political view: “Why do you hate success/the wealthy/the free market/religion/etc.?” This isn’t some semantic twisting of a point of view to bring forth a sense of persecution and division. I really want to know why you hate people. And yes, you do hate people.
You didn’t used to hate people. Even the greed of the Reagan era was more about a love of wealth than an active disdain for a massive segment of Americans (though there was some of that too). Today, however, every decision you make seems to be about depriving a group of this, or trying to stall that, or diminishing someone’s rights, or pitting Americans against one another through some fictitious hierarchy of patriotism.
Amid all the partisan rancor in Congress, and among the American people, I see a tale a two very different agendas. Though they have their problems, the Democrats stand for things. Health care reform. Allowing gay rights to marriage and military enlistment. Consumer protections. More thorough nutrition information. TARP. Student loan reforms. Investment in green energy. The list goes on and on.
And what do you offer, Republicans? Nothing but excuses. You occasionally express a token concern for many of the same issues, but it’s as thin as your budget proposals. Your leaders and pundits will criticize literally anything President Obama and the Democrats do, no matter how ridiculous a stance that entails. Or you say now is not the time for reform, what with the tough times and all. Gee, how convenient! The Party of No, which is most to blame for our crisis in the first place, wants to wait until the economy improves to step out of spite mode. Why do I feel like you’re dreading that moment? It’s as if you have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are.
It certainly explains many of your highest-profile politicians of the past few years. Sarah Palin’s appeal seems to hinge on two things: 1) her folksiness schtick and 2) her ability to alienate half of the electorate. Your party likes that she is not overly intellectual and that she speaks only to whom she deems “American” Americans. Someone as divisive as Palin would seem to be a terrible choice for any high federal office (and proved as much in 2008), and yet her name remains in the pool of viable candidates. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has seen his presidential cred diminish because he successfully implemented health care reform in Massachusetts — reform very similar to what the Democratic Congress passed. And that just isn’t divisive or spiteful enough for your ticket, is it?
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seems to be priming himself for a bright Republican future. Engineering a budget crisis in his state and then using it as a pretense to strip public workers of their collective-bargaining rights — that’s about as bold as they come. Fortunately for him, decades of anti-union rhetoric has ensured he isn’t completely ostracized for his brazen action. We’re long since accustomed to cutting vital public-sector jobs to the bone, and then draining most of the marrow in that bone. We taxpayers pay their salaries, and we’re sick of it! What do teachers, cops and firefighters do that’s so important anyway, right? It’s funny how everything with you guys comes down to taxes, and how high and unnecessary they are. Walker himself tweeted that the cutback on union rights was a victory for taxpayers. And I guess it was, in the sense that theoretically they’ll each save a buck or two in the future. As for the quality of schools and public works, as well as the tax fallout from the poverty and crime that this could perpetuate later, eh. There’s literally nothing that doesn’t come down to selfish penny-pinching with you guys. That and your inability to concede that taxes and unions have any benefits at all is the height of political immaturity.
And don’t even get me started on Rep. Peter King. He’s about as perfect a Republican specimen as you have these days — a formerly reasonable politician who flipped after 9/11 and has sought to persecute American Muslims ever since. Apparently taking Ann Coulter’s defense of Joseph McCarthy to heart, King is now holding hearings on Muslim radicalization in the United States. His allegation is that Muslim Americans didn’t and aren’t doing enough to alert the government of terrorist activity. It’s wrong on its face, because Muslim groups proved to be quite helpful after 9/11. But on another note, I’m reminded of a line from the movie “Reno 911: Miami,” in which a deputy asks a black man at a party, “Are you Suge Knight? Are you Jay-Z? Are you any of them?” Because this is what your officeholders do: assume every race and religion (well, almost) bands together as a monolith and you can’t tell them apart. Consequently, your policies stink of prejudice. I don’t see you asking every gun owner why they aren’t doing more to turn in potentially trigger-happy brethren. Or that giant corporations must do more to prevent corruption within the business sphere. I guess in those cases you would say (without irony) that the majority are peace-loving and ethical entities not represented by the bad apples.
Also, you’re bought off. But you knew that. Hell, you’re proud of it.
I direct my anger toward your party’s leadership because I pity the Republican voter. Today’s GOP stands only for greed, spite and division, all of which hurt the vast majority of American people. By definition, you don’t serve the interests of anyone beyond a tiny, exclusive class of people. And yet, you can always count on enough support to remain a perennial contender. That, I’ll admit, is slick. You successfully appeal to struggling Americans by stoking their fears and resentments. You’ve built entire media empires and industries dedicated to the cause. And it works like a charm; even many who can see a direct cause between their troubles and corporate downsizing, for example, will still vote for you because you’re “pro-business.” Or they might be crushingly poor, but still vote for you on the basis that they’ll be super-rich someday and want taxes to be low when they get there. Even if that means they’ll have to struggle more now. Or they might have Muslim or black friends, but they still believe that they’re all terrorists or welfare cheats, except for their friends. Not to mention that Democrats are evil in their eyes, because of one or two wedge issues, so there’s never an alternative.
So, yes, I think today’s Republican Party is a morally bankrupt, astonishingly childish shell of its former glory. And even though I’m no conservative, it worries me that what should be a valuable counterweight to the Democratic Party is instead occupying itself with obstruction and bigotry and flirting with its most extreme, anarchic elements. And if it takes a beating in 2012 for you to see that, so be it. But I’d rather you realize it now so that the American people can have some real choices next year.
Otherwise, don’t be surprised if more voters say no to the Party of No for a very long time.