Debate Forum Topic, 1/3/12

What does it mean to be a Democrat and a Republican in 2012?

What does it mean to be a Democrat today? What does it mean to be a Republican today? As we watch the U.S. Congress stymied in partisan gridlock, what principals do each of the two major parties hold onto during this increasingly bitter debate? Some suggest that the divisions between left and right are fundamental and unbridgeable. Even within the two major political parties there are divisions on the political spectrum which seem to be increasingly tearing at the fabric of our political system. There is really no clear definition of what is a Democrat or a Republican. Our forum question of the week which asks what it means to be a Democrat or Republican is just as murky. Like so many things in life, what it means to be a member of either party is in the eye of the beholder who, in this case, is the party member.

The history of the Democratic Party of the U.S. is an account of the nation’s oldest political party and arguably the oldest political party in the world. For the past 80 years, the Democratic Party has believed in a strong role for the federal government in solving the nation’s problems. Federal spending programs and a strong federal government designed to improve the lives of the less fortunate among us, has been the Democratic policy since introduced by FDR and the New Deal. However, it was their “big government” philosophy and record spending that voters so dramatically rejected in 2010.

Today there continues to be a wide spectrum of people who consider and call themselves Democrats. They are found on both sides of many national issues such as immigration, abortion, deficit spending and national defense. Their members range from the very liberal to the more conservative Blue Dog Democrats. One of the keys to success of any political party is to find a way to accommodate as many political philosophies as possible under the broad party umbrella. The Democrats have, over the years, done a better job at this attempt at inclusion than the Republicans.

For example, Democrats are trying to find a way to accommodate those who support the Occupy movement within their ranks. But many of the Occupy demands, to the extent that we were able to discern those demands, are beyond the platform and policies of the Democratic Party. For example: A minimum wage of $20 per hour; free tuition for college education for anyone seeking such; open borders migration allowing anyone to travel anywhere to work and live; and the immediate and across the board forgiveness of all debt for all. While there are some demands by Occupy that the Democrats share, such as instituting a universal single-payer health care system, there are deep policy divisions between the groups.

The Republican Party emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas Nebraska Act which threatened to extend slavery into the territories. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and its success in guiding the Union to victory and abolishing slavery, the Grand Old Party (GOP) won all but two presidential elections from 1860 until 1932. The basic philosophy of the Republican Party is a push for a smaller, less intrusive federal government. Generally, in speaking about the huge federal deficit, Republicans would argue that we don’t have a revenue problem; but that rather we have a spending problem. The $15 trillion federal deficit provides fodder for the Republican spending hawks. Republicans are also more likely to support a strong and even intimidating national defense.

Republicans also have a number of subgroups making up their ranks. The two primary branches are the moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans. With the conservative branch there are also two groups that at times overlap; the fiscal conservatives and the social conservatives. Conservative Republicans continue to be the dominating faction of the GOP.

Republicans, like their Democratic counterparts who are attempting to reach out to the Occupy movement, have recently been dealing with the Tea Party movement and have been attempting to reach out to those movement voters.  The Tea Party movement has adopted many of the GOP principles regarding smaller government and less spending. But their version of politics has been a strict adherence to a “no spending or tax hikes” position; positions that they believe that many Republicans in Congress have been no stronger at supporting than the Democrats. This “no compromise” position has made them a fickle partner for the GOP.


Forum Question of the Week:
What does it mean to be a Democrat today? What does it mean to be a Republican today?

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