There’s a notion floating around that our government doesn’t work because Republicans and Democrats are both too extreme–that both parties are too biased to get anything done. But is this true?
To begin, let’s take a quick test. It’ll be easy: agree or disagree. Feel free to keep track of your answers…
1) Agree or Disagree: Corporations are not people and money is not speech.
2) Agree of Disagree: Every American citizen aged 18 years and older has a right to vote and should be able to do so, regardless of race, class, gender, or their political beliefs.
3) Agree or Disagree: We should raise the minimum wage to at least $10/hr.
4) Agree or Disagree: People who make money on investments should pay the same tax rate as people who are paid a wage or earn a salary.
5) Agree or Disagree: Wealthy Americans pay too little in taxes.
6) Agree or Disagree: Companies should not get subsidies or be able to avoid taxes by shipping jobs or profits overseas.
7) Agree or Disagree: Congress should not cut Social Security benefits or Medicare.
8) Agree or Disagree: The federal government should help the poor with programs like Food Stamps, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), and Medicaid.
9) Agree or disagree: The U.S. government should use taxpayer money to significantly invest in infrastructure–roads, bridges, harbors, airports, railways, etc.
10) Agree or Disagree: The federal government should help cut the cost of college and lower interest rates on Americans with student loans.
11) Agree or Disagree: Using diplomacy to prevent countries like Iran from getting nuclear weapons is preferable to war.
12) Agree or Disagree: We spend enough or too much on our military.
13) Agree or Disagree: In light of recent mass murders and gun violence, there should be more restrictions on firearms.
14) Agree or Disagree: There should be a separation between church and state.
15) Agree or Disagree: Everyone has the right to marry the person they love, regardless of sexual orientation.
16) Agree or Disagree: African Americans have been unfairly targeted by some police officers and police departments.
17) Agree or Disagree: Abortion is a private decision that should be made by a woman, consulting her family and/or doctor.
18) Agree or Disagree: We should not deport undocumented immigrants and their children; instead, Congress should pass immigration reform that strengthens border security, makes sure undocumented immigrants are paying taxes, and offers a fair, but strict path to citizenship.
19) Agree or Disagree: The U.S. government should ensure all citizens have access to affordable health care, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is a step in the right direction.
20) Agree or Disagree: The U.S. government should take reasonable steps to address and combat climate change.
So here’s the deal: right now, in terms of policy, most Democrats in office would agree with all 20 statements, whereas most Republican politicians would disagree. Clearly, the divide between the two parties in terms of ideology and policy is vast.
Also, I framed the statements this way on purpose. Whereas Democrats tend to be for, or in favor of new proposals and policies (like many listed above), Republicans tend to oppose change.
Please understand, this is not my opinion of the two parties–this is in fact, an accurate reflection of what they believe and how their members function in government. As proof, I’ve provided an explanation of where each party stands on policy below. Note: there are hyperlinks throughout this post–feel free to click on them to explore statements or claims I’ve made that are interesting, confusing, or don’t seem correct.
The question then, is based on the evidence, which is more extreme: to agree or disagree with all of the above statements?
Let’s take things by category, starting with beliefs about democracy.
Beliefs About Democracy (Statements 1-2)
Democrats are strongly opposed to the notion that corporations are people or that money is speech. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, in particular, has made this a hallmark issue of his campaign, and most Democrats agree, going so far as to call for a Constitutional Amendment explicitly stating that corporations are not people and money is not speech.
Even Hillary Clinton, who’s often criticized for receiving big campaign donations, has expressed, “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment.”
Republicans believe just the opposite. Consider that in the last presidential election, Mitt Romney stated for the record, “corporations are people, my friend!” In addition, Republicans in the Senate and House have repeatedly worked to block the DISCLOSE Act, a law that would require big donors to reveal their identity.
Moreover, many Republicans have asserted that money is speech and continue to rake in huge donations from billionaire supporters, Ted Cruz first and foremost in his rhetoric.
One outlier here is Donald Trump, who has said on several occasions that big money has a corrupting influence on politics, though he hasn’t expressly said he’d do anything about it if elected.
On voting, there’s similar disagreement. The GOP, by all indications, has no interest in increasing access to the ballot box. In fact, in almost every state where they control the legislature, Republicans have passed laws that prevent many people from voting by limiting early voting, restricting when and where people can register to vote, requiring voter ID, and even limiting access to places like the DMV, where voters can acquire such ID. These laws have clearly had an impact on the outcomes of elections–notably benefiting Republicans.
Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, told reporters that Republicans need to win gubernatorial races this year so that they’re the ones controlling “voting mechanisms” going into the next presidential election.
State Senator Fran Millar (R-GA) said, “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters,” in response to criticism of an op-ed he wrote complaining about the convenience of voting in a black suburb.
Franklin Party (Columbus) Ohio GOP chair Doug Preiss, adviser to Republican governor John Kasich: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.”
Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott: “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.”
Democrats, on the other hand, tend to want as many Americans to vote as possible. Oregon, a state that’s been under Democratic control for years, is a great example, where vote-by-mail is law, and turnout in 2014 was 70%.
Economics (Statements 3-10)
In general, Republicans believe in trickle-down, supply side economics: that the best way to improve the economy is by cutting taxes and regulations–especially on the wealthiest Americans and large corporations. The idea is that corporations and the wealthy will then invest the money they save in new businesses, creating more jobs.
On the other hand, Democrats believe the best way to improve the economy is by increasing demand, or what has been branded (to be fair, by themselves) as “middle-class” economics. If more Americans have more money, they reason, they’ll be able to buy more stuff, which in turn, benefits business.
The main way to do this is to increase wages, but investing in infrastructure, increasing access to affordable health care, lowering the cost of college, and lessening the burden of student loan debt are other policies that will put more money in peoples’ pockets. It should also be said that Democrats also favor a strong social safety net, such as unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, WIC, etc.
These investments obviously cost money, and as such, most Democrats favor changing the tax code so that the wealthy pay more, while poor and middle class Americans pay less–but overall want to increase revenue and spending. Specifically, they’ve proposed increasing taxes on capital gains, taking tax subsidies away from large corporations, and closing tax loopholes.
What works? Well, we’ve been trying the trickle-down thing for almost 30 years. In 1982, Ronald Reagan cut taxes on top earners from 70% to 50%. In 1987, tax rates were cut again to 38.5%, and then in 1988 to 28%. Since that time they’ve fluctuated between 35% under Bush, and 39.6% under Clinton and Obama.
In addition, it’s currently estimated that state and local governments give around $110 billion in tax breaks (subsidies) to corporations every year, while the federal government, depending on the source, gives away between $200 and $500 billion per year.
But that money has not trickled down to create more prosperity for most Americans. As the chart below shows, wealth grew most for the top 5% of income earners between 1983-2010.
During this same period of time, the minimum wage has not been raised in terms of real value, union membership has declined rapidly, college costs have skyrocketed, and U.S. investment in core infrastructure has dropped significantly.
So it’s fair to say that since 1980, the U.S. middle class is declining and wealth inequality is as high as it’s ever been.
Military Spending and Foreign Policy (Statements 11 and 12)
Here again, the contrast between parties is stark.
According to almost all recent statements by Republicans–especially those running for President–the GOP generally believes that we should spend more money on the military so that we can use it to intervene in foreign affairs.
One clear example of this is the 47 Republican Senators who sent a letter to Iran stating that they should not sign the nuclear deal they were negotiating with the Obama Administration and other nations (France, China, Russia, etc.). Then, when the deal was concluded and agreed upon this summer, almost every Republican member of the House and Senate voted against the agreement.
On the other side of the aisle, most Democrats voted to approve the deal.
So what was in the agreement? Basically, it requires Iran to drastically scale back their nuclear facilities and capabilities and to allow inspectors to certify that they’ve done this with very little notice or privacy. In exchange, economic sanctions were lifted from Iran, allowing it greater freedom to trade in the world market. If Iran violates the agreement in any way, those sanctions go back into place.
The alternative, essentially, would be to go to war. No one wants Iran to get a nuclear weapon for obvious reasons, but especially the fact that they are openly hostile to Israel. However, under the sanctions we had in place before the negotiated deal was approved by the U.S. and other nations involved, Iran was successfully able to refine uranium and take other steps toward getting a nuclear bomb. So there were two options: 1) force the Iranians through diplomacy to sign an agreement that limited their nuclear capabilities, or 2) intervene militarily.
Most Democrats chose option one. Most Republicans chose option two. Option one is now law.
In addition, Republicans believe we should spend more taxpayer money on the military, whereas Democrats either think it should stay the same size or be cut–though here there’s disagreement. Some Democrats believe the military should be cut significantly; others slightly; others not at all.
Keep in mind that currently, the U.S. annually spends “$601 billion, which is more than the next 7 highest spending countries combined.” Here’s a chart below, showing how our military spending stacked up against other countries in 2013.
To put our military spending in perspective, here’s the President’s proposed total budget for the Fiscal Year 2015.
Remember, Social Security and Medicare are paid for by payroll taxes–a flat tax on every working American. All other spending is paid for out of the general budget.
Gun Rights (statement 13)
On guns and gun violence, it’s pretty simple: Republicans want to keep laws the way they are so that just about anyone can buy a gun at just about anytime, with loopholes in the system for those who want to buy a gun without undergoing a background check.
Democrats generally favor more restrictions on guns; the most widely supported proposal is to have universal background checks on all gun sales.
As far as gun deaths, the U.S. is a massive outlier when compared with other Western/industrialized nations. We have far fewer restrictions on guns and far more people are killed by firearms each year.
Religious Freedom (statements 14 and 15)
Democrats generally support the right of people to worship whatever religion they choose and to marry regardless of sexual orientation. Most Republicans believe the U.S. is a Christian nation that should be governed by Christian law.
That may sound extreme, but there’s substantial evidence that Republicans disapprove of non-Christian religions and values.
Consider a recent statement by Ben Carson, who’s currently polling second to Donald Trump among Republican primary voters. He said that he believes a Muslim should not be President–which turned out to be wildly popular with those same primary voters. Or take the fact that Republicans have questioned whether President Obama’s a Christian or not, a near majority asserting he’s a Muslim.
The same can be said of values as they relate to religion. Republican controlled states and Republican voters in those states have repeatedly put up barriers to same-sex marriage, arguing that it violates Christian faith. Recently, many of the GOP presidential candidates came to the aid of Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone after the Supreme Court declared same sex marriage a legal right guaranteed by the Constitution.
In addition, Republicans have opposed government steps to remove religion or religious statements from government, such as this summer when Republican governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from Capitol grounds.
On the other hand, Democrats have traditionally supported same sex marriage and generally believe there should be a separation between church and state.
Police Relations — Black Lives Matter (Statement 16)
Democrats assert that African Americans have been unfairly targeted by some police officers and police departments, believing that reform (body cameras, police retraining, etc.) is necessary to prevent future abuses.
This is evidenced by the general outcry of Democratic politicians following events such as the protests/riots in Ferguson, MO and other cities following the high profile killings of Micheal Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and other African Americans at the hands of police.
In addition, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton–the two leading Democratic presidential candidates–have both met with leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and have proposed policies to address how law enforcement interacts with African Americans.
Republicans assert that the statement “Black Lives Matter” is incomplete, and have countered with the meme, “All Lives Matter.” In general, Republicans have been more concerned with police authority and violence against the police as well as law breaking than whether or not there is a racial aspect to how law enforcement interacts with African Americans.
Indeed, just recently, GOP candidate Chris Christie accused the Black Lives Matter movement of advocating for the murder of police officers. Many in conservative media have made similar claims.
In this case there’s some pretty clear evidence.
For example, an analysis of males aged 15 to 19 showed that African Americans were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. There’s also pretty clear data concerning whether or not African American are targeted more by police. Studies ranging from traffic stops in Kansas City, MO, to the stop and frisk policy in New York City, to the Justice Dept. report on Ferguson, MO, show that blacks are targeted by police, stopped, ticketed, and arrested, at far higher rates than whites.
At the same time, claims by Republicans that police officers are being killed at higher rates due to increased public scrutiny aren’t supported by data. Fewer police officers have been killed in 2015 than in previous years, and the rate of felonious killings of police officers is steadily declining over time.
Abortion (Statement 17)
This one’s really simple: Republicans do not believe abortion should be legal. Democrats do.
Ultimately, the issue comes down to beliefs about life. Those who believe life begins at conception view abortion as murder, pure and simple. On the other hand, those who believe life begins once the fetus is viable–that is, that it could survive if taken out of the mother’s womb–believe that abortion is a more ethical decision than carrying to term a child that is either deformed, handicapped, or unwanted.
In 1973, the Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that the right to privacy protected a woman’s right to have a legal abortion. Before Roe, thousands of women died seeking illegal, or what have been called “back alley” abortions.
Immigration and Undocumented Immigrants (Statement 18)
Here, again, there’s a very straightforward difference between parties: Democrats believe undocumented immigrants and their children should not be deported, and that they should be offered the opportunity to earn their citizenship through a rigorous, legal process.
It should be stated, in fairness, that some Republicans believed this as well–enough that a bipartisan bill aimed at reforming our immigration system passed through the U.S. Senate in 2013. However, the bill was never brought up in the Republican controlled House and was never enacted into law.
Since that time, most Republicans have come out opposed to any government policy that offers a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Views vary, but Donald Trump has perhaps been the most outspoken Republican on immigration, calling them rapists and criminals, and including as part of his platform a plan to build a wall along the Southern U.S. border, which was extremely popular in conservative media.
The facts: there are just over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., they make up about 5% of our labor force, and about half are Mexican. Another point that ought to be made is that aside from African Americans, who were brought here against their will, and Native Americans, every other U.S. citizen and/or their ancestors were at one time immigrants.
Health Care (Statement 19)
Since the Affordable Care Act is officially the law of the land, let’s look at the statistics:
As of July 2015, 47% of Americans approve of the law, while 48% disapprove.
Over 16 million Americans have gained coverage under the act.
Of those covered, 75% are highly satisfied with their coverage.
Overall, health spending has slowed since implementation.
As almost everyone knows: Democrats support the ACA and believe that access to affordable health care is a right. Republicans don’t, having tried to repeal the act over 50 times in the House, and without having provided any sort of comprehensive replacement.
Climate Change (Statement 20)
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is real and is, at least in part, caused by the actions of human beings.
Additionally, scientists warn that if we don’t take immediate actions to mitigate or combat climate change, the effects could be horrendous, including increases in storm frequency and strength, increased and prolonged drought, rising sea levels, and huge die-offs in at-risk animal populations and biomass.
Democrats almost universally believe the U.S. government should take swift actions to combat climate change.
Republicans don’t, many asserting that climate change isn’t real or is a hoax.
Hopefully, understanding what we believe in conjunction with what our two major political parties believe will help people to make more informed arguments when discussing issues, as well as understanding who best represents their values when it comes to voting.
Again, these are the actual, real-life positions of Republicans and Democrats on a range of issues. The above does not reflect my opinion, but reality. If I’ve made any mistakes, please comment below or contact me via email–with proof–and I’ll correct the post.
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