What I Like About the Democratic Party
December 7, 2012
(This item originally appeared at Forbes.com on December 7, 2012.)
US President Barack Obama celebrates on stage on election night in
Chicago on November 6, 2012. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images
Any serious political observer should be able to list several things
they like about any political party. Even the German Nazi party of
1932. Obviously, someone likes the party, or it wouldn’t even exist.
The U.S. Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is a
sclerotic, hidebound antiquity, mostly in thrall to unspoken
business interests. Most of the Democratic Party’s historical policy
ambitions have already been put in place. The only thing left is
some sort of universal healthcare – but the recent proposals along
those lines, such as Obamacare, have been hideous. Their idea tank
is mostly empty. Nevertheless, the party still wins elections. Here
is what I find attractive about the Democrats:
1) They care about most Americans. Most Americans these days
are really not so well off. Do Republicans have anything at all to
offer those families making less than $100,000 per year (often with
both parents working), which is to say, about 80% of them? I think
that good conservative economic policy – Low Taxes, Stable Money –
is indeed beneficial for all levels of society. However, even as
Republican support comes mostly from rural “red states,” Republican
leadership seems to have a blind spot for the majority of Americans,
seeing them mostly as welfare-state moochers who don’t pay enough
2) They are less enthusiastic about war. It’s true that
Democrats began U.S. involvement in both World War I and World War
II, and were largely responsible for the Vietnam War. However,
especially in recent years, the Republican Party is plainly the
3) They are less aggressive about the expanding police state.
The hideous Patriot Act was passed with support from both parties,
but these police-state measures are particularly popular among the
fascist wing of the Republican Party.
4) They care about the environment. All meaningful progress
towards better environmental policy comes from the Democratic Party.
A lot of these environmental ideas are bad ideas, but the Republican
Party only offers criticism and resistance, not anything new or
better. President Nixon is known for accomplishing a rather
impressive list of environment-friendly policies, but the
Republicans seem to have abandoned that tradition.
5) They are not pulling away the Safety Net when it is needed
most. Despite government propaganda to the contrary, the
economy stinks, and it looks like it will soon get worse. Enrollment
in existing welfare programs has been soaring. A lot of this is
probably undeserved, such as disability benefits given to people
with no meaningful disabilities. However, the basic principle of a
“safety net” should be maintained. Reforms are best saved for a time
when the economy is doing well and unemployment is low.
6) They don’t like “Big Business.” When companies become
large, they often gain influence over the government itself, which
they use to further their interests in a fashion contrary to the
principles of capitalism. They create artificial obstacles for
competitors, grow fat on government contracts and corporate subsidy,
acquire assets cheaply from the government and dump assets on the
government at high prices, foist their losses upon the taxpayer, get
special tax or regulatory deals, break laws with impunity and get
only wrist-slaps even after the rare prosecution, affect trade
policy and foreign policy in their favor, and tweak regulation to
allow them to pursue activities that are contrary to the well-being
of citizens as a whole. They are crony capitalists.
Not all large companies do this. I would say that Apple, Nike,
Applebee’s, Macy’s, Marriott International and United Parcel Service
are fine examples of corporate citizenship. But, a lot of large
companies do, especially banks, energy companies, defense
contractors, pharmaceutical companies, and the grotesque Monsanto.
The crony capitalists have the Democratic party in their pocket just
like the Republican party, but critics of crony capitalism (such as
Noam Chomsky perhaps) find a home left of the center aisle. Although
this behavior is completely contrary to conservative principles,
prominent critics (like Ron Paul) are typically treated like
pariahs. The Republicans have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy
regarding corporate crime.
7) They reach out to many ethnicities and cultures. There’s
nothing inherent in conservative principles that is only attractive
to older white males. Many business-friendly places in the world are
distinctly non-white, such as Singapore, Dubai or Panama. However,
one does get the sense that the Republican Party would rather not
have colored people in its country club.
8) They are good placeholders. I don’t think that
president Bill Clinton accomplished much of importance during his
eight-year tenure. But, he didn’t break anything either. Sometimes,
that’s the best option available.
Conservatives might look at this list as a schedule of
opportunities. It is not very hard to develop an environmental
program, or even a welfare program, that is in line with
conservative principles (business-friendly and not too expensive).
The truly great conservative parties of history – I particularly
like Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party of the 1950s and 1960s – would
co-opt the left-leaning opposition’s best ideas, and implement
within their conservative framework. There’s a great opportunity for
Republicans to implement a universal healthcare system that is
actually cheaper than the roughly 8% of GDP the U.S. government
already spends on healthcare – more like the 3% spent by Hong Kong
and Singapore on their universal health programs. It might even have
some Democratic support.
For now, we are in a time of Status Quo stasis. Like all things,
this too shall pass, and I don’t think it will take too many more
years to get to that point.