Monday, August 2, 2010

Unless you are a Wealthy Cyborg, You Shouldn't be Voting Republican

The title of this post is a little tongue-in-cheek, but only a little. As the fall mid-term elections approach, I have been pondering whether there are any good reasons for a person to vote straight-ticket Republican. I confess that I have a personal interest in this question because many of my family members are hardcore Republicans, even though most are of modest means.

Rather than offering reasons as to why so many working and lower middle class people vote Republican (against the predictions of traditional rational choice voting models), I evaluate some of the more common reasons that individuals themselves give for voting Republican:

(1) Republicans favor tax cuts, encouraging personal consumption and business investment; this stimulates the economy, yielding more tax revenue and thereby reducing the deficit.

This is the "rising tide lifts all boats" supply-side theory of economics, which is today widely discredited. In 2006, the Economic Policy Institute released a report concluding that the ginormous Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 failed to generate the promised economic growth. With no big economic gains and lower tax revenue, the result is higher deficits--which is precisely what occurred during the Reagan and George W. Bush presidencies. Here is a graph from Mike Kimel's blog showing that Democratic administrations boasted higher economic growth rates than Republican administrations.

Not only are Republican policies apparently bad for growth, but it is also worth noting that the poor do far better under Democratic administrations than Republican administrations, while the rich do roughly the same. A recent paper by Princeton Professor Larry Bartels uses data analysis to show that the income inequality rises under Republican administrations and falls under Democratic administrations, as shown in the figure below. This result is mainly attributable to differences in economic growth (30 percent higher under Democratic presidents on average) and unemployment (30 percent lower under Democratic presidents on average).

(2) Republicans have more fiscal discipline and we need to get Obama's federal spending under control before it destroys our currency/economy/American way of life.

Can we please stop pretending that the GOP is the party of fiscal probity? After all, it was not so long ago that Cheney asserted that "Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter." And the Bush administration certainly acted as though it didn't matter--spending trillions of dollars in borrowed money for wars in the Middle East, a prescription drug benefit, and massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Despite the cacophony of concern-trolling over out-of-control spending under Obama, the bulk of projected deficit spending from now until 2019 is accounted for by Bush era tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the servicing of that debt.

In fact, a review of deficit spending over the past 40 years explodes the notion that Republicans are the party of fiscal discipline. The periods of greatest growth in deficit spending correspond to the Reagan and Bush Jr. presidencies. The administrations of Carter and Clinton showed relative restraint. The deficit spiked in the first year of Obama's presidency, but it is worth noting that the 2009 budget (including the massive bank bailouts) was already in place before Obama was sworn in.

(3) Republicans understand that you can't show weakness internationally by negotiating with our enemies.

This is not at all true. Although George W. Bush famously took relations with our European allies to a new low, and refused to negotiate over WMDs with Iran and North Korea (leading them to accelerate their respective nuclear programs), the Bush administration did negotiate a deal with terror-sponsoring Libya, leading Gadhafi to give up the country's WMDs in return for lifted sanctions.

In fact, every president in recent history (Republican and Democratic) has negotiated deals with hostile or enemy states. Nixon famously opened up China. Although he presided over a huge nuclear arms build-up, Reagan reached out to the Soviets to help pave the way for the first arms reduction agreements. He also negotiated with our then-mortal enemy, Iran, and was notably reluctant to engage in war under any circumstances. More recently, Republican stalwarts George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, have attempted to broker a deal with the Russians to completely eliminate nuclear weapons on both sides.

(4) Republicans keep our country safe from terrorists.

This is another myth carefully cultivated by the right. Voters have traditionally ranked the Democratic Party better on the economy, health care and education, so the Republican Party has crafted an image as the party that keeps us safe. The evidence usually cited for this claim is that the U.S. was not attacked while Bush was in office (except for that 9/11 thing--but that was Clinton's fault). But even if we exempt the Bush administration from blame for 9/11, there was still an uptick in terrorist attacks against our Allies and U.S. interests abroad under the Bush administration. The National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 concluded that the threat of terror against the Homeland actually increased in recent years, primarily because the war in Iraq had allowed al Qaida to expand its operations there, it now had a safe haven in Pakistan, and U.S. threats to bomb Iran inspired Hezbollah to train its sites on the Homeland. Thus, far from making us safer, the Bush administration actually made us less safe.

(5) I am a religious conservative and the Republican Party reflects my Judeo-Christian values.

Sigh. True, this is what they say. But judging by their actions, the Republicans are not exactly paragons of traditional Christian values. The GOP is known for being a sanctuary for closeted homosexuals (many of whom oppose gay rights), and Republican leaders have reportedly solicited gay sex in airport bathrooms (former Senator Larry Craig), paid to be diapered by prostitutes (Senator David Vitter), forced his wife to engage in group sex (former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton), solicited sex from congressional male interns (former Representative Mark Foley), engaged in sex tourism (Rush Limbaugh), committed statutory rape (Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the late Senator Strom Thurmon), molested children (former Christian Coalition chairman of Oregon Louis Beres), committed adultery (too many to count), and had sex with a mule (far-right Republican activist Neal Horsley). See a short-list of accused Republican sex offenders here. Of course the Democrats are no saints themselves, but (1) they never claimed to be, and (2) they don't seem to have quite as many pervy wankers in their ranks as the Republicans.

So when does it may sense to vote Republican? If you are among the top 1-5 (maybe 10) percent of income-earners, you may benefit from Republican tax cuts to the wealthy. If you are not, you may end up with a tax increase as the federal and state governments struggle to make up for the loss of revenue by raising sales and local taxes. Moreover, if you at all depend on Social Security or Medicare to help make ends meet in your august years, you are not likely to benefit from Republican plans to privatize or severely slash these programs.

But being wealthy is not enough. You should also ideally be a cyborg or some other super-human life-form that will be unaffected by Republican de-regulation of air, food, drug and water safety standards, not to mention consumer protections and product safety.

The Republican Party understands that they have a a very narrow natural constituency--mainly the super wealthy who are impervious to, or do not care about, the level of arsenic in the water supply, the level of carbon emissions in the air, the safety of children's toys, the risk of contracting E. Coli in tainted meat or vegetables, the stability of our banking system, and the safety of coal mining, nuclear power reactors, and offshore drilling operations. Cognizant of this , GOP activists have used fear, race-baiting, and cultural/religious warfare to broaden their constituency.

This is not to let the Democrats off the hook. The Democrats' performance since capturing the House and Senate in the 2006 midterms has been disappointing, to say the least. The weak sauce health care and financial reforms show that the Democrats are at least partly in hock to business interests, too weak or scared to challenge the establishment, or both. However, given the choice between a party that has partly sold out to corporate interests and a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate America, I choose the former every time.