Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Republican Ideas vs. Republican Policies

On a recent episode of Real Time, Nick Gillespie of Reason.tv attempted to goad Rachel Maddow by accusing her of always taking the side of the Democrats, and insisted that she should name a Republican policy with which she agrees. Maddow appeared to have a visceral dislike for Gillespie and rebuffed his challenge. Maher interceded, stating correctly that the challenge was not a fair one. A better response by either, I believe, would have been to point out that the Republican party's better ideas are, at present, largely also held by the Democratic Party, by pointing out that the Republican ideas that are most attractive in principle are the ones they tend not to implement while in office, or simply to say, "You first," followed up with an explanation of why Gillespie's favorite Republican policy isn't all that special.

Gillespie revealed the weakness of his argument, that he was out to score rhetorical points rather than making any substantive observation about Maddow, when he later challenged her defense of the Affordable Care Act, contending that as "RomneyCare" is the inspiration of "ObamaCare" it's a Republican idea. As if it needs to be said, "RomneyCare" is so unpopular among Republicans - at least those outside of Massachusetts - that not even Romney supports it. Also, although I don't watch her show, I expect that Maddow has been a consistent critic of "ObamaCare" from the left. That she sees it as better to the status quo ante is something quite different from embracing its policies. And if we're going to pretend that any idea ever supported by a Republican is a "Republican idea", even if repudiated by the party at large, even if repudiated by the sole Republican who voiced support for the idea, Gillespie's challenge loses what little credibility or meaning it might have had if he chose to connect it to reality

My thought at the time was to take a look at the national Republican Party's website, or at Romney's website, and see which ideas I could endorse. I was reminded of Gillespie's challenge, though, by the low hanging fruit - the Texas Republican Party. Don't get me wrong, I agree that the government should keep its grubby hands off of my multivitamins, and that we shouldn't put aborted fetus parts in our yummy pink slime, but we're scraping the bottom of the barrel....

One of the problems with trying to find "Republican" issues on Romney's website is that he pretty much runs away from any controversy. To the extent that his website shares ideas it's to reassure corporate interests - he's very anti-Union, he has no coherent immigration policy but he favors H1B-type programs for skilled workers. He toes the insurance company line on healthcare reform, the financial industry's line on regulation (i.e., that despite almost taking down the world economy it should largely be unregulated), and the energy industry line on the environment. He's promising to slash taxes for the rich and pretend that he can still move the budget toward balance.

A lot of his ideas are magical - for example, he wants to retrain workers for the new economy, but has no idea for how that can be done either affordably or effectively. He believes that pretty much every foreign policy issue can be solved through sanctions, military posturing, increased military spending, supporting dissident groups even when to do so would be to undermine their goals or to invite reprisal, and if all else fails by antagonizing China and Russia. He likes block grants - after all, why solve a problem when you can punt?

All Romney's "platform" does is reinforce the impression of him as a vacuous man running for office, beholden to the millionaires and billionaires who fĂȘte him at their private back yard golf courses. You can find plenty of pie in the sky - stuff most people can agree with, like the notion that everybody should be able to attend a college that is both affordable and that matches their abilities - but what's the point of saying such a thing if you can't also articulate how you will achieve that end. The policies you will create, and how you will pay for their implementation?

I had hoped I might do better on the RNC's website, but their take on the issues is even more evasive and platitudinous than Romney's. Apparently the only place I can find specifics is through a resort to the low hanging fruit offered by the likes of the Texas GOP.

Really, if the question "name a Republican policy you agree with" simply entails embracing a platitude - "I agree that judges should uphold the law", "I agree that government should cut waste", "I agree that regulations that do more harm than good should be repealed", "I agree that kids should have access to quality education" - then it's easy to find points of agreement. But if we move past the surface and start talking policy, it becomes difficult to see how Romney and his party are in fact planning to advance the values they pretend to hold.

The classic example is, of course, the budget - Republicans talk up a storm about balancing the budget and the evils of deficit spending when they're out of power, but can't spend money fast enough when in power. We move immediately from "deficits are horrible" to "deficits don't matter". So I can say "I agree with the 'Republican' idea that we should balance the budget," but if I ask which party is more likely to achieve that goal history tells me that I have to vote for a Democrat.

I can similarly agree with the concept that regulation should not interfere with the efficient operation of businesses, operated in an otherwise lawful and ethical manner, but in practice the Republicans have repeatedly supported deregulation that is affirmatively harmful to the environment and which has caused numerous crises as the deregulated businesses run amok. It also wouldn't be honest to suggest that the Democrats don't share that concept, or that in recent decades that they don't share the Republican tendency to allow businesses to run amok. Agreement with a stated principle is only meaningful to then extent that you can trust the party to enact responsible policies and to maintain appropriate regulations.

I can't embrace Gillespie's conceit that any idea ever supported by a Republican is a "Republican idea" - "You support wage and price controls? Not only are you a socialist, you got that idea from Nixon!" If the endorsement of an idea is to have any significance, I also can't embrace the notion that a "Republican idea" can be divorced from Republican policy. The question seems like an anachronism - twenty, thirty years ago it was easier to both identify ideas that were associated with one party or the other, and to relate those ideas to actual policy proposals. Today it seems like the Republican Party doesn't want to let voters know what it stands for.
We support common-sense health care reforms that would lower costs, preserve quality, end lawsuit abuse, and maintain the health care that Americans deserve.
We believe in energy independence.
We believe that maintaining a world-class system of primary and secondary education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential, is critically important to America's future.
We believe a judge's role is to interpret the law.
And I expect that "we believe" that every little girl should have a pony. I expect that Maddow could agree with those "ideas", but her agreement would stand not as a vindication of the Republican Party. If the Republican Party wants vindication, it needs to stand behind its ideas - to articulate actual policies that advance the ideas.

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