Donkeys and Elephants

What is the real difference between Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives.

Republicans tend to believe that government is best that governs least, and they favor a free-market system in which the government’s functions and powers are strictly limited.  Most of them are convinced that the free-market system produces the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens, and that when government intrudes into this free market, even for the best of motives, there often follows an inevitable loss of individual freedom, initiative, and self-respect, along with a growth of dependency.  When a government role is necessary (unless it is a clearly defined national responsibility such as national defense, interstate commerce, etc.), most Republicans think that role is best performed at the state or local level rather than by some distant, self-perpetuating Federal bureaucracy, a bureaucracy which they deeply distrust.

Democrats, on the other hand, incline to be much more supportive of government’s intervention in society.  They believe that government has a vital role in smoothing out the inequities produced by our free-market system and the frictions inevitably generated by our increasingly complex, pluralistic society. A few Democrats trend toward socialism. Also, most of them support the role and power of the Federal government at the expense of state or local governments. They regard the Federal authority and the courts as more reliable defenders of individual rights, more responsive to disadvantaged members of our society, and the only entities capable of creating and enforcing national “standards” so dear to every liberal’s heart. Democrats tend to distrust state and local governments just as Republicans distrust the Federal bureaucracy.

The sort of strong centralized Federal government favored by the Democrats is particularly susceptible to the powerful interest groups such as the ACLU, the teachers’ unions, LGBT activists, etc. At the national level, these interest groups have a powerful influence on the Democratic Party’s agenda.  Republicans also have their interest groups (e.g., the NRA), but they are fewer in number, and Republican preference for limited government lessens their impact.

Republicans are usually more nationalistic in their view of the world and America’s proper place in it.  They sometimes appear chauvinistic, and theyare deeply suspicious of international organizations, trade agreements, and treaties that are not clearly in the best interests of the American economy or required for our national security.  Republicans tend to fear the imposition of foreign controls and influences in areas that they believe should be left to national or local governance. Democrats are more likely to be globalists.  They support international organizations and agreements in areas like trade, climate control, etc., and they often appear embarrassed by the jingoism of Republican America Firsters.

These different political philosophies, Democrat and Republican, are reflected in our national debates.  Their opposing views of the Federal Department of Education give an excellent insight into these differences.

Public schools throughout the United States have long been the province of state and local financing and control.  The quality of education varies from state to state and within each state, and it became of particular concern to many Federal legislators and judges that subsets of students in certain states (racial minorities, female athletes, the handicapped) were not receiving equal treatment.  Congress passed legislation to address these inequities.  The legislation produced a plethora of regulations, and every public and private school in the country, so long as they received even a modicum of Federal assistance, either directly, via student loans, or in any other manner, is now required to prove compliance.  The Congressional edicts were enforced through the Federal courts, sometimes to the extent of virtually taking over an entire local school system.  Finally, during the Carter administration, Congress established the Department of Education to coordinate Federal education programs.

Many Republicans would like to abolish the Federal Department of Education.  Education is a state and local concern, so what is the department’s purpose?  Many of the department’s supporters evidently wish to develop national education standards, but do we really need to have a Federal cabinet level department to do that?  And do we need a national standard? Advocates of local control maintain that we are much better off allowing each state to develop its own standards, becoming test beds for innovation and progress and borrowing successful programs from each other.  As for anti-discrimination programs, so long as the courts are in business, these programs will continue with or without a Department of Education. Despite Democrat claims to the contrary, most Republicans are not anti-education.  It’s a question of control.  Democrats seem to want as much control as possible centered in Washington.  Republicans want the control sent back to the states and local school districts.

Many Republicans also support the concept of school voucher programs that would enable children to attend schools of their choice.  They are very concerned by the deterioration of so many public schools – poor academic standards, the lack of discipline, the removal of Christian ethical teaching, and the imposition of liberal programs (e.g., LGBT approved instruction) in an increasing number of school districts. Nevertheless, most Democrats and the teacher unions are horrified by the idea of vouchers.  They fear it would withdraw funding from public schools and lead to a collapse of public education.  Republicans, on the other hand, believe vouchers would lead to an overall improvement in the quality of schools through competition

One thing is certain, Federal involvement has done little if anything to improve the overall quality of education over the past half-century, and many would point out that during that time America’s relative scholastic performance has deteriorated vis-a- vis other nations of the world.

Democrats and Republicans also disagree on taxation.  The Democrats usually favor a highly progressive income tax and a capital gains tax that is particularly heavy on those with high incomes.  They also support heavy taxes on businesses and on corporations.  Many look on these taxes as a means of wealth distribution – take from the rich and give to the poor as needed to smooth out the inequities in our capitalistic system.

Contrary to many liberal propagandists, Republicans are not out to protect the rich and starve the poor.  Instead, the primary concern for most of them is to protect the goose that lays the golden egg.  The goose is American business.  The egg is prosperity.  Wealthy Americans are the ones who invest in businesses and create jobs.  Taxing them excessively dries up sources of income needed to grow American industry.  The same is true of taxes on corporations.  Excessive business taxes and burdensome regulations drive American factories overseas or cause them to lose out to foreign competition.  The ultimate loser is the unemployed American worker.

Anti-poverty programs are also the subject of Democrat vs Republican debate.  Massive welfare programs were developed under progressive/liberal leadership. These programs have expanded to the point where they consume the greatest part of our annual tax revenue, and the nation’s fiscal viability is threatened. Any Republican who questions the structure and efficacy of these programs is characterized as a modern Ebenezer Scrooge.  Nevertheless, Republicans believe changes must be made if we are to avoid economic collapse.  The Republican approach is to create more jobs by growing the economy and getting employable people off the welfare rolls.  Republicans also recognize that Social Security and Medicare must be restructured, else these programs will soon face bankruptcy. Democrats characterize this as a hard-hearted attitude toward the poor, but Republicans insist that it is a recognition of economic realities.  Our national debt is 20 trillion dollars and growing, and in the not too distant future the interest payment on that debt could exceed our annual tax revenue.  What happens then?  Republicans insist that they are trying to come up with solutions.  Few Democratic party leaders will even acknowledge that we have a problem.

The present raging debate about immigration also divides Democrats and Republicans.  As previously noted, Democrats are more inclined to be globalists, whereas Republicans trend toward “America First” nationalism.  Some Democrats go so far as to advocate open borders, but more Democrats appear to favor at least some restrictions, and most Republicans support building a wall.   Both political parties are deeply divided on how best to deal with this extremely complicated issue. Regardless of party, all thinking men realize that continued immigration is healthy for our nation; but there are questions about how (or whether) to control the border, the number of immigrants that should be allowed, the degree of selectivity to be applied in choosing immigrants, how to recognize and deal with truly persecuted refugees seeking asylum, etc.  In the toxic partisan atmosphere that envelops Washington, it is difficult to work towards rational and workable solutions.

Looking at Democrats and Republicans in a more general way, Democrats are more likely to be secularists or members of more liberal Christian churches and synagogues. On average, they are better educated than their Republican opponents, and they dominate academia and the mainstream media.  They are less likely to accept the concept of absolute truth and natural law in the sense that it was believed by the founders of our republic.  Republicans are more often Evangelicals or conservative Catholics and trend toward traditionalism in religion and politics.

Within the ranks of both Democrats and Republicans there are extremists who refuse to respect or listen to their political opponents and do not hesitate to criticize members of the other party in the most abusive and dishonest ways possible.  These virulent partisans should be condemned.  We should recognize that the best way forward often lies somewhere between the desired outcomes of those on the extreme left and the extreme right.  Compromise is often necessary, and we must learn to accept the achievable good in place of the unattainable perfect.

This brief paper describes several of the many areas of difference and disagreement between Democrats and Republicans, and it gives you a flavor of the debate that rages in our national capital and divides our nation. Above all, I urge Democrats and Republicans to avoid invective and credit their political opponents as being persons of honor and having good intentions. I believe that most of them earnestly desire the very best for our nation, but there are profound disagreements on what is best and how to achieve a “more perfect union”. I pray that they can learn to work together.

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