For the past five trimesters it has been my privilege to offer my thoughts on some of the day’s political issues, both domestic and abroad. Most of the time I’ve tried to be pretty even-handed. The polarizing rhetoric that currently defines our politics is frustrating to say the least, and I’ve always wanted to be someone who can contribute a more calm and consistent tone to those debates. Although I definitely play for the blue team, I’ve always admired conservative writers like David Brooks who maintain real thoughtfulness even when chiming in on debates that are heated with super partisan rhetoric. I think it is important to acknowledge hypocrisies in my own party and legitimate arguments in the other.
However, if you have been reading this column for a while, you might have noticed that the tone in my writing has been gradually changing. I’ve begun to criticize conservatives much more openly and I haven’t hesitated to use hyperbole to describe Republican policies. Part of that is probably just laziness, it’s much easier to write a combative piece full of rhetorical flourishes, and it is senior year.
More than that, however, as I’ve gained a deeper and deeper understanding of the philosophical differences between the two sides, I have definitely become more strongly anchored on the left. Furthermore, although at the beginning of the Obama administration I was full of hope about compromises and bipartisanship, I’ve been continuously disenchanted with the Republican Party. My attitude hasn’t even become so much pro-Democrat as it’s become anti-Republican.
There are a number of reasons for this. One was that Republican criticism of the Health Care Reform bill struck me as destructive and hypocritical. Many of the big ideas in the legislation that Republicans had once supported and even pioneered, ones like the individual mandate and cuts in Medicare Advantage subsidies, were now being demogogued as assaults on our freedoms and rationing by those very same people. I mean, the individual mandate was the cornerstone of John McCain’s health care reform proposal during his presidential campaign! This was enough to convince me that Republicans were not interested in legislating in good faith.
Moreover, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s continued declarations that the number one job of Republicans was to get Obama to fail was further proof that the once upon a time Party of Lincoln was more interested in political bomb-throwing than actual governing. I could go on with where the Party has been intellectually dishonest and inconsistent, however, that isn’t all of what has driven me from the center, especially because the Democratic Party deserves a lot of criticism too.
More than from the frustrating political gamesmanship, then, it has become clearer to me how much I disagree with conservative philosophy. In a way, Republican inconsistency and hypocrisy has been a good thing, because I think it has often revealed the true beliefs of the Republican Party. For instance, the reason that Republicans oppose a health care reform bill that they used to support is because Republicans do not want to reform health care. It is against conservative philosophy to interfere with the market and the private sector. That philosophy says that subsidies for health care increase dependence on government, weakening character and the incentive for people to work and be self-sufficient. Why should somebody who is successful and wealthy pay for the care of someone who isn’t? Overall, it is a philosophy that says your income should determine what health care you can receive because in a market society, the income you earn in the market is society’s collective valuation of your skills and contributions to that society.
And this is something with which I fundamentally disagree; I do not believe that the market creates just outcomes. I like markets; I think they’re amazing engines of economic growth and opportunity. But I also think they create huge disruptions in people’s lives and exacerbate class inequality. I want to live in a country that as it grows wealthier, it makes sure no one is left behind; we should care about the size of the pie and how it is cut. I believe society will be healthier and more socially cohesive if it actively, even if it is through government, tries to lift those up who are less fortunate. Conservatism has too often meant a rugged individualism where people must be self-sufficient and independent, being allowed to either make it or not on their own. I do believe in personal responsibility and like I’ve said before, incentivizing hard work and promoting self-sufficiency is critically important to a self-governing society. But even as we are pushed to make it ourselves, we as a society should also have the compassion and empathy to pick each other up when we fall. Republicans used to believe, as Abraham Lincoln said, that government should do for its people that which people cannot do for themselves.
Sadly, these beliefs do not seem to fit with the current conservative movement. Truthfully, this admission is hard, because there are conservatives I admire a great deal. But over the past two years, I’ve been repeatedly struck by evidence (many on the left would say I’m late to the party) that the modern Republican Party is not interested in helping those who cannot pay their way. And even with all of their weaknesses, the left leaning of this country are.
This column has been a weekly thought laboratory for me, a place where I could go to test out my ideas and explore what I was thinking at the time--to articulate what I thought I felt, question it, and try again. In my first column, I wrote that living through experiments is a critical way of learning and growing, and that this column was an experiment itself. After graduation, I will be speechwriting for a political candidate, a job that would have been unimaginable without the opportunity The Carletonian and its readers have given me. Thank you.