“I usually vote pro-life,” she said. Then she looked me in the eye and added that she “cared about the environment too.”
“I guess I’m a moderate, ” she shrugged, “whatever that means.”
“Me too!” I smiled, but she looked doubtful. I had just handed her a piece of campaign literature.
She reminded me of myself 12 years ago. Back then I really didn’t have a firm commitment to either party. All my voting life I’d chosen candidates that I liked regardless of their party. I considered my choices to be more objective and fair that way. But with the partisan war that erupted during the election of 2000, I started taking my vote more seriously. I could not clearly define Republican or Democrat in my mind so I started educating myself on each. I started reading history, researching government programs, watching CSPAN, and flipping between the three top cable news channels. I wrote down the political topics that mattered most to me personally and I researched them from both sides. While other women were serving cookies at the bridge club I was doing research in the library and at home. (I’m like that.) Here is a summary of a small part of what I learned.
1. Who is responsible for our success in life?
The Republican party leans toward the notion that the individual is responsible for his own path in life. If a person is successful (financially secure) in life, it is due to his own initiative, hard work, and commitment. I started this factory. I’ve spent my life growing it. I am the boss. My name is on the door. I built this.
By the same ideology, the individual who lives poorly does so of his own choosing. The general attitude is that these people are lazy and just want to live off someone else’s earnings. Leaders in the party often complain about people who depend on welfare, disability, food stamps, medicaid, unemployment, and other forms of government aid.
The Democratic party leans toward the notion that we’re all in this together and no one “gets there” on his own. Where he grew up, who his parents are, the schools he attended, the healthcare he received, etc. all impact an individual’s success in life. The city offered an incentive so he chose to build his factory here. Workers who were educated in public schools spent many days laboring together and felt pride in their work here. Truckers delivered the finished goods over highways built by taxpayers. He makes the big bucks. He is the boss. His name is on the door, but we built it too.
Democrats agree that individuals have a responsibility to care for themselves but believe that the community bears responsibility as well. In keeping with this belief that they are “their brother’s keeper” Democrats support the idea that government has an obligation to help level the playing field.
Democrats are responsible for starting and supporting most of the government assistance programs for the elderly, children and the needy. I’ve included some links to these programs below and would encourage readers to check them out or use the search engines to find numerous facts and opinions.
2. Ideally, what role should government play in our lives?
The Republican party supports the idea that the individual should be free to do as he chooses without government interference. Ideally, government should consist of a strong military to keep us safe from foreign attacks but beyond that, government should be mostly absent in a man’s daily business. Their adherence toward this idea is reflected in their policies to deregulate banks and Wall Street investors. They believe as individuals they should be allowed to keep the money they earn themselves so they support measures that decrease their tax burden. They oppose most government standards or initiatives that increase business costs and reduce profits. Recent attacks have been against FEMA (candidate Romney said in one of the primary debates that he would eliminate it). Another government agency that Republicans have attacked repeatedly is the Environmental Protection Agency because, though they may care about the environment in theory, it never seems to take priority over making money.
Quick fact: The EPA was started by the Republican administration of President Nixon in 1970 after rivers in the east began catching fire due to the massive amounts of flamable pollutants that factories were pumping into them.
Republicans champion the notion of smaller government, but for all the years they have preached this notion, the government has continued to grow during Republican as well as Democratic administrations. It appears to grow in different areas, but it has continuously grown nonetheless.
The Democratic party supports the idea that government does have a role to play in our daily lives. Equality, justice, safety, environmental protections, etc. don’t just happen on their own. Democrats endorse the use of government as an equalizer and protector of its citizens against individual or group practices that discriminate or threaten the well- being of other citizens.
Democrats point to projects like the building of the interstate highways during the Eisenhower administration, the building of Hoover Dam during the Hoover administration, and the building of the “world wide internet” during the Clinton administration as projects that could only have been built by the government because no single business would have been willing to take the risk. Government often pays for large projects that are not guaranteed profit makers. They do this increasingly now by “hiring” individual contractors who do the actual work for a profit, often at greater expense than it would cost to have the government do it themselves. This has been “good business” for the private sector and its potential for business has been coveted by individuals willing to take advantage of the opportunity. Some of this is just good for everyone. The government pays a little more but utilizes the best talents and expertise that the private sector has to offer.
Some of it should be questioned. Do we want to give up all government ran programs? Democrats would say that programs like social security that provide a guaranteed income for seniors is worth protecting. Republican politicians believe social security should be “privatized” which means they would eliminate the guaranteed benefit for life and turn it into a 401k type investment plan with no government guarantee. This would be the best of both worlds for the private sector because once the government withdrew control of the program, billions of dollars of “new money” would then flow largely unregulated into the hands of private investors. Social Security would become “private security”. We can hope that investors would gamble it wisely, but if not, we’re just old without income when the market tanks again.
My dad used to talk about the WPA and how the government put people to work during the Great Depression building roads and ditches, but people like my dad who remembered when the government actually built something are all gone now. Citizens are being told that businesses are the only “job creators”, and many individuals just accept this as fact, oblivious or unwilling to accept the “legitimacy” of thousands of government jobs(politicians, soldiers, teachers, policemen, lawyers, judges, prison guards, etc.) whose salaries are paid by taxpayers.
3. Who votes Republican? Who votes Democratic?
Quick clue: Learning a person’s perferred voting preference may be as simple as asking them to find a cable news channel on TV. Those who turn to Fox are more likely to vote Republican. Those who turn to MSNBC are more likely to vote Democratic.
Before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Law in 1964 the south had many more Democrats than it has today. Southern white Democrats who resented being told that “negroes” could now eat in white restaurants, attend white schools, etc. abandoned the party in huge numbers. Ever since then the southern states have voted red. Blue states remain (except for California) mostly in the North and Eastern parts of the country. Today the Democratic party is populated largely by college-educated whites, women, blacks, and hispanics. Male white voters and highly religious evangelical followers appear to dominate the Republican party. These are generalities, of course, as you will find every race, age, sex, and religious believer in both parties.
Historically, people who own businesses usually voted Republican. People who worked for businesses usually voted Democratic. Today that distinction is less clear possibly due to the decline of unions and the rise of cable news channels. Business owners still vote mostly Republican, but many blue collar workers now vote Republican as well.
Increasingly, voters appear to choose sides mostly based on one or two single issues that connect with them emotionally and personally. This type of decision making is encouraged by both campaigns since their goal is to win — not educate. Centuries of rumor mills have taught politicians that people believe what they hear, especially if its repeated often and in simple language. Make it juicy and add a little bit of truth or fear to make it believeable; no need to bother with complete truths after that….we’re running for election, for Pete’s sake!
As much as people say they hate negativity, politicians know that people thrive on it. Last week my husband and I were walking back to our car from our local Wal-Mart. We walked by a van where two men were standing. One man was talking passionately about politics to the other man facing him. “Democrats are EVIL!” he swore indignantly. By his appearance, age, and the condition of his van I guessed him to be a blue collar worker. In the next breath he chanted, “Those SOBs better keep their hands off my medicare!” The teacher in me desperately wanted to give him a history lesson, but my husband wouldn’t let me.
4. What are the issues that decide votes and where does each party stand?
I’ve noticed that many voters decide their preferred party based on the abortion issue.
The Republican party supports a Pro-Life agenda. The party has varied over the years as to whether all abortions should be illegal, or if some should be allowed for rape, incest, or the health of the mother. Many Pro-Life advocates believe that life begins at birth and that the unborn fetus (though it is undeveloped and too small to survive at the time most abortions occur) should be defined as a child. Republicans have fought against legallized abortions continually since abortions were legalized in the 1973 court case Roe v Wade .
Pro-Life supporters focus on the life of the unborn child and mostly ignore the life of the mother. These advocates are passionate and emotionally uncompromising in their beliefs. For them abortion “is not a choice…it’s a child”. Most refuse to use the term
Pro-Choice, using instead the term Pro-Abortion to describe their opponents.
Quick fact: No Pro-Choice person ever describes themselves as being Pro-Abortion. To a person who is Pro-Choice this term is devisive, offensive, and misleading. Encouraged by this, Pro-Lifers use it every chance they get.
The Democratic party supports the Pro-Choice agenda, but also supports measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Democrats focus on minimizing the problem through prevention. Thus, the recent controversy over the Blunt Amendment where Republican Senator Blunt attempted to add provisions into a highway bill that “would allow not only religious groups but any employer with moral objections to opt out of the coverage requirement” to provide birth control as part of the insurance coverage for their employees.
Pro-Choice supporters focus on the life of the mother as having priority over the unborn fetus. Before Roe v Wade, many women died attempting their own abortions or by using unlicensed and untrained personnel. Having safe, legalized healthcare for women is part of the Pro-Choice agenda.
Many Pro-Choice supporters would not choose abortion for themselves but believe it is not their place to make that decision for another woman. For them its not about the abortion itself but about who decides. Pro-Choice believers think this is a decision that should be made between a woman, her doctor, and her god.
Quick fact: When it comes to abortion, the role of government appears to flip between parties. Republicans believe that government should interfere between a woman and her doctor to force her to carry her pregnancy to term. Democrats believe government should “butt out” of interfering and leave it to the individual woman to choose what happens to her own body.
Other issues that voters appear to use in choosing sides are guns, jobs, deficits, sex, and religion. None of those issues are as simple as either campaign tries to make them and they are more complicated than I care to spend at this time detailing.
So here are some points I want to leave you with.
1. Remember: All politicians are just trying to get hired for one of those government jobs. Lots of other people that work for their campaigns will also get government jobs when they land theirs. Their buddies and rich supporters will get easy and quick access to the “rule makers”. What you and I will get? With so many people counting on them, they’ll sell us whatever they think we’re willing to buy.
2. Our job as a voter is to choose the best applicant. I encourage every voter to take some time to hear both sides, check for facts, read some history, and exercise both heart and mind when making your decision. (I wouldn’t care really, except your choice might affect me.)
3. We have a great system in this country but its not perfect. The best thing about the party system is we only have to lean one way or the other and we can switch at any time. The worst thing about the party system is that it does more to divide than unite us. I truly believe that most of us are moderates, whether we lean more to the left or more to the right. Most of us understand that extremes rarely benefit anyone. So let’s mostly just get real and be kind to one another. There aren’t 50% of us right and 50% of us wrong. One party isn’t good and the other party evil. Every person deserves to be represented and no person of either party is being “Un-American” when they exercise their freedom of speech or their right to vote.