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Why I Am a Democrat
Wednesday, 2004 March 10 - 12:23 am
A Republican friend of mine (whom I greatly respect) recently asked me why I was a Democrat. I didn't respond to her completely at the time, but it's something I've thought about a lot. Here are some of my reasons.

One thing we should all realize first, is that Republicans and Democrats agree on many things. We are all Americans, and we all value basic principles like freedom, fairness, and prosperity. But we disagree on how to reach those principles.

First, let's talk about freedom. Everyone thinks they know what freedom means, but it really means different things to different people. The thing I always think about is religious freedom, because it's such a contentious issue for a lot of people. The example that comes to mind is this: should a student be allowed to lead his class in a prayer? A Republican would argue that if we say "no", we are restricting that student's freedom of religion. A Democrat would argue that by allowing such things, we would be violating the student's classmates' rights to freedom from religion.

The funny thing is, if 90% of Americans were atheists, both political parties might reverse their stances. And that is a telling thing to me: Democrats tend to defend freedom for the weaker, less empowered group, while Republicans tend to defend the majority and the status quo.

To me, not only is there nobility in defending the weak, there is necessity in it: if we do not, we run the risk of disenfranchising groups of people based on arbitrary standards established by the powerful majority. It is easy to accept that if one is a member of the majority; but if one is a member of the disenfranchised group, then that's a difficult pill to swallow. The thing is, at some point, we will probably all be in the minority at some point; and when that point comes, we will not want laws and standards of morality imposed upon us by the majority.

So there is the real agenda for Democrats: to prevent oppression of the weak by the powerful, so that everyone can exercise their freedoms. I, for one, find great honor in that approach.

Next, let's talk about fairness. Republicans tend to view fairness in terms of how individuals are treated; Democrats tend to view fairness in how classes of people are treated. The classic example here is affirmative action: while Democrats see affirmative action as a tool for correcting an inequity between classes, Republicans tend to point out individual cases of a white person being denied something in favor of a black person. And if confronted with questions about entrenched racial discrimination, a Republican might argue that it isn't right to correct one injustice by applying another.

It's certainly not a clear-cut issue. The Republican argument has merit here. But here's the thing for me: which approach will yield the best long-term result? If we take the Republican approach, we will entrench the discrimination and segregation that exists in society today. If we take the Democratic approach, there's a good chance we will eliminate the socio-economic barriers that make affirmative action necessary in the first place.

We've come a long way in achieving civil rights for minority groups. But we certainly haven't finished the task. I believe it is naive (or, dare I say, ignorant) to say that we've eliminated discrimination in our society. Perhaps in fifty, or a hundred years, affirmative action will not be necessary; but today, it still is.

So in regards to fairness, I subscribe to the Democratic belief because it offers us the best chance of eliminating the social injustice that exists in society today, and because it will eventually provide fairness for all of us, not just some of us.

Finally, let's talk about prosperity. We all would like to live in a prosperous nation, but Republicans take the view of maximizing the wealth of a subset of society, while Democrats take the more socialist view of spreading wealth across society. The primary point of contention here is the issue of taxes, or more specifically, progressive taxes (where the rich pay a higher percentage of tax than the poor).

Here is analogy I like. (Stay with me, because this is kind of a long analogy.) Suppose I live in a house with three other people. I am the only person who has a car, and therefore the only person who can work. By myself, I can make $100,000 dollars. I take the responsibility for housing and feeding the other people in the house, and sometimes I spend on home improvement projects; then I'm left with $20,000 each year that I invest. So in this model, we (as a household) accumulate $20,000 a year, plus interest.

If, however, I spent $30,000 over two years to buy cars for each of the other residents, then everyone could work, and we could eventually raise our household income to $400,000 a year. Our expenses would only increase modestly, so at that point, we would be accumulating over $300,000 a year, or 15 times the savings we were making before. This is the value of investment, and both Republicans and Democrats recognize this.

Where things start to break down is if we now add four more residents to the house, without cars. Now, if those new people had cars, the household income could increase to $800,000 a year. But who, of the original four residents, is responsible for buying those people cars? If someone else (besides me) were to buy more cars, the household would still benefit, and it wouldn't cost me anything. But if all of us original residents thought that way, then no one would ever buy more cars, and our income growth would halt. This is where trickle-down economics fails: when wealth fails to transfer from the wealthy to the needy.

So what's the fair thing to do? The original four residents should make an agreement to each pitch in a certain amount of money, for the purchase of cars. Thus we have established the basics of government: we have a law (the agreement), and we have taxes (the amount we put it for cars). The new people have no money, so they don't pitch in; now, we have a progressive tax, because the higher wage-earners put in more than the lower wage-earners.

The expectation is that the new folks would eventually start earning income themselves, and then we would benefit from their tax dollars also. We then get into an upward spiral of economic prosperity.

So basically, a progressive tax system is something that ultimately benefits us all. Granted, this is a gross oversimplification of macroeconomics, but the principles of investment and taxation are sound.

Republicans would say that they do not trust the government to equitably or honorably spend our tax dollars in ways that benefit our country. But I would say that if we left money in the hands of the wealthy instead, it would be even less likely that the wealth would be used in ways that benefit us all. (Public schools? Roads? Public transportation? Where would those be without tax dollars?) It seems far better to put money in the hands of elected governments, who are accountable to us, than to leave it in the hands of the wealthy, who are not.

We start to see the recurring thread here: Democrats want freedom, fairness, and prosperity for all of us, not just the privileged few, not just the powerful, not just the wealthy. This idea can be described as romantic, idealist, and noble, even in the face of unpopularity.

I would like to think that those are words that would describe me too.
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Posted by Ken in: politics


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