What Is a Republican?

Democrats and Republicans working together: Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, and Lyndon Johnson.

As Progressive Democrats, we often look across the aisle at those who call themselves “Republicans” today and wonder what makes them tick. We all know Republicans, and may even have them as family members. But the Republican Party of October, 2010, is not the same Republican Party of fifty, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten years ago.

As the 2008 election approached, I did a lot of phonebanking for Obama into traditional Republican states, and I formed some opinions of what is a Republican:

  • someone who is excessively politically naïve;
  • someone who is excessively greedy;
  • someone who is a racist; or
  • a combination of all three.

The politically naïve category includes those who only think about politics the day before the election, and reflexively vote Republican. It also includes those who vote Republican, even though it is against their personal interests, because they are swayed by emotional causes which don’t directly affect them such as school prayer, gay rights, flag burning, welfare mothers, abortion rights, and so on. See the book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” by Thomas Frank.

The excessively greedy category includes those who vote solely based on what is going to benefit them the most directly, without any regard for what is best for the country. Profiteers on Wall Street most easily fit in this category, but it also includes most Americans who make over $250,000 a year.

The racist category includes those who used to be Southern segregationists, who have jumped to the Republican Party since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. But it also includes white Northerners who have has little contact with persons of other races or ethnicities, and prefer to lead their lives in a racial cocoon, having as little contact with people who are not like them as possible.

I used to be a Republican, in the early 1960s, when it seemed that the Democratic party was largely composed of Northern Unionists and Southern Segregationists. The people who seemed to have the best ideas were Nelson Rockefeller, New York Mayor John Lindsay, New York Senator Jacob Javits, and the other liberal Eastern Republicans who dominated the Republican Party during much of this period. Then there was Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who captured the Republican Presidential nomination in 1964 and actually said, during his nomination speech, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”. He was swamped by Lyndon Johnson, winning six states.

I spent a college semester in Washington, D.C. in 1962, and met many of the major politicians of the day, from JFK on down. Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen could work cordially with Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Majority Whip (and future VP) Hubert Humphrey, especially on foreign policy matters. After law school, I returned to D.C. as Legislative Assistant to a liberal Republican Congressman from New Jersey, and I got to know other moderate Republican leaders like Bob Dole and Gerald Ford in the House, and Senators Mark Hatfield and Chuck Percy, gentlemen all.

But the Republican Party of today, 45 years later, is a different creature. It is mean-spirited and angry, and so conservative that none of the Republicans I mentioned above, even perhaps Barry Goldwater, would be acceptable as national party leaders today, and would be called RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and both George Bushes could not even be nominated for President on the Republican ticket today, the party has moved so far to the right.

Recent polls have shown that the Republicans of today believe the following:

  • 67% believe that President Obama is a “socialist”;
  • Only 42% believe he was born in the United States;
  • 39% believe that he should be impeached (for what?);
  • 51% believe that Sarah Palin would make a better President;
  • 57% believe that he is a Muslim;
  • 38% believe that he is doing things that Adolf Hitler did;
  • 24% believe that he is the Anti-Christ;
  • 31% believe that contraceptives should be outlawed; and
  • 23% want to secede from the United States.

According to Newsweek, “Democrats and Republicans now vote against each other more regularly than at any time since Reconstruction [after the Civil War].”

The conventional wisdom is to try to find a way to work with the Republicans in Congress, and President Obama and the Democratic majorities in both houses have tried to do this, but these efforts have been a complete failure over the 20 months since President Obama was inaugurated, due largely to the complete intransigence of the Republicans in Congress. The Republican Party has been scoured of all moderates (except for the two Maine female Senators), leaving the Republicans in Congress consisting of hard right, fundamentalist, often Tea Party – supporting ideologues. Remember Terry Schiavo?

We now have a country, in the post economic meltdown world, which has a greater disparity between the very rich and the very poor than at any time in the past 50 years. And the Republican Party has become the party of the very rich, with no regard for the poor in this country. Witness their cynical push to continue the “temporary Bush tax cuts” rammed through Congress in 2001 and 2003 using the majority vote “reconciliation” strategy they complained so vociferously about during the debate on the healthcare bill last year.

In the next breath, the Republicans in Congress complain about “the deficit” and the need to reduce it, but they have no plans for how to pay for the additional $700 plus billion dollars which would be added to the deficit if the “Bush tax cuts” for those making over $250,000 were not allowed to expire at yearend (which would add well over a trillion dollars to the deficit if all the Bush tax cuts were extended permanently).

What does “the deficit” consist of? In January 2001, the Clinton Administration had run surpluses for three straight years, with a projected surplus for FY 2001 of $710 billion. By January, 2009, the Bush Administration had run deficits for seven straight years, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s projected deficit for 2009 was over $1 trillion.

The actual 2009 U.S. government expenditures were as follows:

  • $923 billion related to Bush’s policies – the unfunded tax cuts, two unfunded wars, and the unfunded prescription drug program;
  • $422 billion related to financial bailouts begun by the Bush Administration;
  • $225 billion related to Obama’s policies instituted in his first year in office;
  • $302 billion related to all other expenditures.

$426 billion in projected 2009 federal revenues were lost due to the economic meltdown begun in the Bush years.

By 2010, the projected deficit had risen to about $1.4 trillion, due to the $862 billion economic stimulus package, including extended jobless benefits, and healthcare, among other things, budget expenses that would kick in over time and not all in 2010.

The Republicans talk about reducing “the budget” as a way to reduce the deficit, but they are short on ideas as to how to accomplish this. Here is the current FY2010 U.S. budget:

  • 40.61% goes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security;
  • 20.96% is for defense spending, including Homeland Security;
  • 17.67% is for non-defense discretionary spending:
    • on education
    • on environmental protection
    • on veterans’ health care
    • on food and drug safety
    • on scientific research
    • on diplomacy
    • and on basic infrastructure;
  • 16.13% goes for safety net programs:
    • unemployment benefits
    • food stamps
    • help for the working poor; and
  • 4.63% is interest on the national debt.

So, Republican geniuses, what are you going to cut, to bring down the deficit without raising taxes and without letting the Bush tax cuts expire at yearend? It has been estimated that without the Bush tax cuts, Bush’s two unfunded wars, and Bush’s unfunded prescription drug program, the projected 2010 deficit would be 3.2% of GDP instead of 9.6%.

Here are my proposals:

  1. Gradually eliminate the cap on Social Security taxes (currently $106,800) so that all income is subject to tax, but perhaps reduce the percentage of income taxed at the same time (currently 12.4% for self-employed individuals). I have paid into Social Security for over 50 years, and now am receiving it (while still having to pay Social Security tax on my current income).
  2. Gradually raise the level for first receiving Social Security benefits to age 70, while at the same time instituting serious job retraining programs for Americans over age 55, and encourage (with tax credits or otherwise) companies to raise their retirement age to 70.
  3. Allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for all Americans (including me). This will happen, I predict.
  4. Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan (this has been done partially, but not enough), and reduce overall defense spending significantly as was done in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union imploded.
  5. Evaluate reforms to Medicare and Medicaid as part of the implementation of what the Republicans call “Obamacare” (this is being done).
  6. Ask each head of the various U.S. Government departments to do a top-to-bottom evaluation of programs or agencies that might be eliminated, as no longer useful or needed, or combined. Set a goal of a 10% reduction in programs and expenditures in each agency or department.

ted vaillSo Republicans, what do you think of these ideas? I would judge that proposals 1-4 above would not be acceptable to you, as your “Pledge To America” is really a “Pledge to Rich Americans”.

Ted Vaill

Ted Vaill has been a lawyer in Los Angeles for over 40 years, and is an elected Delegate to the California Democratic Convention from the 41st Assembly District. He is also a filmmaker, and posted a video on YouTube in September, 2008 entitled “John McCain Not Qualified for Presidency”

Published by the LA Progressive on October 9, 2010
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About Ted Vaill

Ted Vaill has been a lawyer in Los Angeles for over 40 years, and is an elected Delegate to the California Democratic Convention from the 50th Assembly District. He is also a filmmaker, and recently posted a video on YouTube entitled "I Would Appreciate It If You Don't Shoot Me."