Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pandering Trumps Principles for the GOP

The Terri Schiavo case has attracted public attention as it has significance on many levels. The primary concerns involve the right to refuse medical care, but there are many other issues raised. One of the lessons seen here is confirmation that for the current Republican leadership talk about princles is generally just words to attract votes--and trying to attract votes is all that really matters.

Just as with opposing deficits, arguments in favor of state's rights were just tactics for the Republicans when they were out of power, not true principles.When out of power, the Republicans would argue for the need to restrict the power of those in Washington in favor of those on the local and state level as a way to reduce the impact of laws passed by Democrats. Since they have been in control in Washington, they freely ignore these principles. This is at least the third time since the 2000 election that we have seen how little true support the Republicans really have for Federalism:
  • Following the 2000 election, Republicans went to the Supreme Court to overrule the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court on what should clearly have been decided at the state level regarding their election. While discriminatory practices--generally the true principle being supported by those who call for state's rights--may sometimes require federal intervention, this hardly applied here. In this case it was the Supreme Court which overruled the state court's attempts to see that all votes were counted. The prospect of controlling the White House trumped Republican beliefs in Federalism.
  • The malpractice proposals from the GOP, which are really designed to protect insurance companies from loses and not solve the true malpractie problems, call for Congress to set an arbitrary limit on non-economic settlements. In other words, if someone's negligence should cause a problem such as blindness or death of a child, where the damages have a large non-economic component, Congress would override the judgement of the local court which has evaluated the case with regards to determining settlements. Here support for the insurance industry, which has been a major contributor to the GOP, trumps Federalism. Obtaining the support of physicians who do not realize how little the Republican proposals will do for them is an added benefit.
  • Congress is now looking to the federal courts to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case. People may have honset disagreements over how it should be handled. Regardless of these disagreements, the case was tried in the Florida courts. The decision to allow the husband to withhold life support in the case of his brain dead wife is consistent with general medical practice. The decisions of the Florida courts should be the final word in such a situation. Here we see that pandering to the Religous Right means more than their old principles. Unfortunately, separation of church and state is one principle which the Republicans do not understand.

For those of us who follow politicis closely, finding that the Republicans are ignoring their previously stated principles is no surprise. We are aware of the work of people like Frank Luntz who tell fellow Republicans what to say for maximum political gain, regardless of principles.
For the typical voter, seeing how easily the Republicans will flip flop on principles like Federalism would be of little concern. There is, however, a principle which the Democrats need to argue, as there is the prospect for developing a new dividing line between the parties. This is a question of government interference in the private decisions of individuals. Ronald Reagan spoke of getting the government off our backs, but this was yet another case of Republicans deciding upon the words to use rather than supporting principles. Here is one of may situations where it is the Democrats who truly in support of getting the government off people's backs.

Becoming known as the party which supports the rights of the individual against unjust government intervention would be a valuable way for the Democrats to define themselves, rather than allowing the Republicans to continue to define them. This is not only the right principle to support, but one which could be beneficial poliltically. Once people understand that this is why liberals take a position, people might be more understanding of decisions they disagree with personally, such as keeping the government out of decisions over matters such as abortion rights, stem cell research, and sexual preference.

Being the party of individual liberty could also help attract new areas of support. Once identified as the party of big government intrusion into individual's lives, the Republicans may keep their support in the south, but are likely to have difficulties in the more individualistic western states.
Republicans have done an excellent job of nationalizing issues and expanding their support. As Republcans take unpopular positons such as with teh Terri Schiavo case, the Democrats must take advantage of this to show a true distinction between the party themselves and the true party of big government intrusion in people's lives.


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