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Ask Auntie Pinko
December 12, 2002

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I grew up as a Republican and continue to mainly vote Republican to date. (I vote independent and for Democrats about 20% of the time). My main issue with the Democratic Party and its followers is simple. Every solution the Democrats present involves the government providing the solution. (Preamble states: 'Provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare' - not 'provide' but 'promote')

My question is simple: The Democrats say they have an economic policy, but what is it? The only economic policies I hear from Democrats involve:

1) More and bigger government programs
2) The rich are evil, big business is evil (except law firms and the really big government)
3) We must 'redistribute the wealth' and take from the evil rich to give to the poor (till there are no rich no more)
4) Capitalism is evil, Socialism is good
5) Personal responsibility isn't important, the government will take care of you
6) Sound bites and emotions are more important than results (Example: Welfare reform of 1998. Democrats hated it, but fortunately for the poor Bill Clinton signed it)

The reasons I'm asking Auntie Pinko include:

1) I've asked many Democrats and their response is always "I don't know. I vote Democrat because I grew up as one and like what they say". (They can't answer the question.)
2) Most of your responses have seemed well thought out so I was hoping you could answer my question for me.

I sincerely hope to hear your response,

Todd,
Lombard, IL


Dear Todd,

Thank you for your extensive (and provocative) question. Auntie Pinko is always pleased to hear from thoughtful folks who consider themselves to be on the other side of the political spectrum. I doubt that my response to will change your opinions, but perhaps they will help you understand the folks on the other side from you a little better. And that's certainly worthwhile, isn't it?

I'm not going to answer your assumptions about Democratic economic policies on a case-by-case basis, partly because that would make this column way too long. But also because I think that a more general discussion of basic Democratic principles will actually address most of them. You seem plenty bright enough to figure out how they relate.

The first fundamental principle that makes Democrats different from Republicans is, as you've noticed, our attitude towards government. Now, there is a whole spectrum of opinion even within the Democratic Party, and I can only speak for where I stand. But I think that I'm more or less average in that respect.

Auntie Pinko once read somewhere (I am sorry I can't attribute this paraphrase, apologies to the author, wherever s/he may be,) that "Government is a powerful servant, but a terrible master." I think that's spot on. And it's certainly something that we can all, liberal or conservative, agree upon.

But where we differ is in whether our approach to government is based on fear, (the "terrible master" part,) or on hope (the "powerful servant" part.) Most people mix both, but liberals tend to be more hopeful. Because we live in a country where the government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people," we generally see government as a powerful and effective tool to help promote, as you point out, the welfare of all. While liberals have a healthy fear and distrust of governments that represent only the interests of a powerful few, we have a greater tendency to trust a government that is constituted to give all citizens a chance to participate in political self-determination.

(Right now, I'm sure you're saying "yes, butů" and you are right, this leads us into the error of trusting government too much, to do things it really can't or shouldn't do. But we think that's a more positive, hopeful error than the error of ignoring or repudiating government's power and potential for good.)

Now, you asked, Todd, about liberal economic policy, and you also used the word "socialist," which I'd like to address.

Many Democrats and liberals (the two are not synonymous, you know-lots of liberals think the Democratic Party is too conservative) do indeed believe that the type of socialism that had produced such good results in places like the Netherlands, Denmark, and other European countries, could have some value here in America. But that is not by any means a universally-held opinion in the Democratic Party, nor among all liberals. And Auntie Pinko, with a fairly wide acquaintance among Democrats and liberals, has never yet run across one who sincerely believes in Stalinism or any of the other forms of totalitarianism that are mislabeled "socialism" by right-wing ideologues.

So what does that translate into in terms of an economic policy?

It's actually pretty simple, Todd. First off, we recognize the fact that there is no economic policy or system that will be uniformly beneficial to everyone in our society. Because we all have different needs, different abilities, even cultural and social differences, any economic policy that benefits one type of person or group is likely to have a detrimental effect on others.

Since every economic policy "favors" someone, intentionally or unintentionally, the ideological question at hand, then, is who do we want our economic policies to favor?

The Democratic answer is this: Policies that relate to businesses should favor small- and medium-size businesses rather than Big Business. Small- and medium-size businesses employ a far greater percentage of American workers, and the profit they make is most likely to be spent and re-invested right here in America.

Policies that relate to households (like banking, credit, etc.,) should favor the huge population bulge that is in the lower three or four quintiles of the population, rather than the top quintile. These households are the engine that drives our economy, partly because there are more of them, but also because they spend more, right here in America. The upper quintile is more likely to use its wealth in ways that take it out of the American economic mainstream.

Policies that relate to population (like social welfare, health, education, etc.) should be focused on promoting an economic and social environment that lets us maximize the potential of our most valuable and important asset: children. All children, not just the children whose families have the most resources. That social and economic environment means livable cities, quality public education, access to quality health care, and jobs that pay enough so that one hard-working wage earner can provide for a family by working just one job.

If such policies do not favor, or even have a detrimental effect, on some people, the people affected should, hopefully, be those with the best ability to overcome the detriment. The people with the highest social and economic resilience.

Democrats don't believe that all rich people are evil. Many of us are rich, or at least very well-off. We don't want to "redistribute" rich people out of existence. For one thing, it's not possible. Someone is always "rich" in any human society. For another thing, it would not be healthy. Liberals are well aware of the need for incentives, competition, and ambition to drive a healthy economy and a healthy society. We just favor policies that do more to empower the broadest possible spectrum of our fellow-citizens, increasing their ability to achieve incentives, compete, and follow their ambitions.

People with different experiences and beliefs can look at the same thing and see it very differently. I hope this helps you understand how we see ourselves, Todd. I doubt it will change your opinions, and that's not my intention, anyway. But I appreciate your asking Auntie Pinko!


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