Election 2020: Party Priorities

8/27/20

It may be telling that the Republican National Committee chose not to put together a platform this year. In contrast, the Democrats offered a detailed, 45-page document articulating their priorities and intended policies. The Republican’s reticence notwithstanding, I believe the following key areas reflect some of the more critical differentiating positions.

Race relations –

Republicans: We’re living in a post-racial society. The charge of racism is overblown as evidenced by significant representation of black and brown people in the political arena and the economic success of so many people of color. Too often racism is used as an excuse for individuals who fail to take responsibility for their own choices and circumstance.

Democrats: The sin of racism is pervasive and debilitating, fostering systemic roadblocks to people of color that have impeded their liberties and opportunities.

Policing –

Republicans: Law and order takes top priority. The police need to be able to dominate to contain any violence and threat to property.

Democrats: It’s more nuanced. Police responsibilities include those of protecting freedom of speech and assembly. At the same time, lawless behavior is not to be condoned or tolerated. With this tension in mind, many departments need to change the way they approach disputes or disturbances of a social and economic nature. Critically, though, these issues are largely addressed at the state and local level.

Climate –

Republicans: Variations in weather conditions that we are experiencing are consistent with normal climatic variability. The primary effect of regulations intended to mitigate the growth of greenhouse gases is to kill jobs. These efforts are unwarranted and need to be rolled back, and fossil fuel exploration and development need to be expanded.

Democrats: Extreme weather conditions are exacerbated by human activity. Encouraging the use of renewable energy and reducing reliance on fossil fuels will ameliorate the severity of extreme climactic events.

Health Care –

Republicans: Even as this essay is being posted, the Trump administration is mounting yet another effort to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. This effort is underway despite the fact that over 5 million Americans have lost their health care insurance since February of this year, while the Covid-19 pandemic has been raging. Neither Trump nor the Republicans have come up with a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, but that hasn’t stopped them from inexplicably asserting that those with pre-existing conditions will somehow be protected in the absence of any federal healthcare program.

Democrats: Heath care is a right — not a privilege. In one form or another, universal health care is the objective. The party is committed to improving on the current legislation, expanding coverage, and reducing costs.

Reproductive rights –

Republicans: Contrary to any libertarian tendencies held by this party in other areas, when it comes to reproductive rights, Republicans are on the forefront of efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, with the interim objective of restricting the accessibility of abortions, and reducing funding for associated health services for women.

Democrats: High on the list of Democratic priorities is protecting women’s right to choose. Moreover, they support repeal of restrictions like the “global gag rule” and the Helms Amendment, which serve to restrict the election of safe and legal abortion services both here and abroad.

Income distribution –

Republicans: All good here. This land of opportunity rewards people who work hard and play by the rules. People should be self-reliant, and those who can’t seem to make it should be content to rely on the charity of their neighbors and whatever safety net programs are currently in effect.

Democrats: Wealth disparities have reached an extreme. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder suffer from severe insecurity with respect to food, housing, and healthcare, while those at the top skate over these mundane concerns and enjoy lives of privilege. As the richest country in the world, the current food, housing, and health care insecurities are unacceptable.

Covid-19 –

Republicans: Irrespective of the loss of more than 180,000 lives attributed to the Coronavirus thus far, concerns about this pandemic are so yesterday. No urgency here. Thanks to President Trumps leadership, the problem has been solved.

Democrats: The challenge of this virus is still with us; and with the coming of cooler weather in the fall, outdoor activity will necessarily be curtailed, making the containment of this virus that much more difficult. Most critically, controlling this virus is a prerequisite for the economic recovery that we all crave. Until that happens, the government needs to play an active role in helping sustain those who’ve been most economically disadvantaged by the pandemic.

International relations –

Republicans: We’re number one! But the rest of the world has been treating us like a patsy. International actions and policies should be guided by an “America first” orientation.

Democrats: We live in an interdependent world that works better when we collaborate with our allies. A “go it alone” policy is self-destructive and contrary to our long-run best interests.

Taxes –

Republicans: Taxes are too high. Any initiative to reduce taxes is to be embraced.

Democrats: The tax system provides a mechanism to address unequal opportunities that arise, at least in part, due to extreme wealth and income disparities. The pervasive view is that the wealthiest of Americans have not been paying their fair share.

Deficits –

Republicans: Deficits only matter if Democrats hold the White house.

Democrats: Expanding federal deficits to counter economic weakness is a prudent fiscal policy. Steps to reduce the deficit will be appropriate only after a recovery is securely underway.

Character–

Republicans: The predominant sensibility seems to be that as long as Trump delivers on lowering taxes and appointing pro-life judges, all sins are forgiven, including spreading false conspiracy theories, paying off porn stars, stiffing business suppliers and contractors, separating families at our country’s border, destroying faith and confidence in institutions that are critical to our democracy (e.g., the press, our system of voting, public health institutions, and the checks and balances enshrined in our constitution), disparaging adversaries with derogatory and demeaning epithets thereby debasing our political dialogue, and lying and exaggerating on myriad occasions but perhaps most destructively in connection with his handling of the Coronavirus.

Democrats: Whatever Biden’s real or imagined character failings, they simply don’t come close to Trump’s. The efforts of the RNC to paint Trump as a caring and compassionate personality simply don’t comport with Trump’s history of lies and self-dealing.

In many of these categories, the resulting democratic response may be somewhat uncertain. For example, exactly how the tax rules might be adjusted under democratic leadership is still an open question, as is any forthcoming design for a likely extension of Covid-19-related support, as are the precise details relating to any expansion of health care coverage. Despite these uncertainties, however, the choice between Trump and Biden is clear. Republicans are largely content to sing America’s praises, uncritically. Democrats, more realistically, have identified issues that have systematically disadvantaged or disenfranchised considerable numbers of Americans, and they’re eager to work towards creating a more perfect union. Republicans seem to think we’re there.

In reviewing these comparisons, I’m reminded of the famous quote by Robert F. Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” In the current environment, save the issues of health care and reproductive rights, where Republicans want to turn the clock back in time, with regard to virtually everything else, an appropriate variant of Kennedy’s quote is, “Republicans see the world as it is and think it’s just fine; Democrats see the world as it is and want to make it better.”

Kawaller holds a Ph.D. in economics from Purdue University.