Many Democrats and Independents have become discouraged that Republicans are unwilling to engage the Biden administration on policy issues that are of immediate domestic concern and important to the American people. Political commentator Ezra Klein may be on to something when he points to a recent poll that asked voters whether the goal of reliable government is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the country’s survival as we know it.” Only 25% of Republicans responded that it is about policy. Almost 50% said survival.
When one drills down on this polling result, it is easier to explain the post-election actions of both Republican elected officials and supporters of the former president. Democrat initiatives to address the pandemic, pass comprehensive immigration reform, make it easier for qualified citizens to vote, provide a lifeline for disadvantaged children, improve the Affordable Care Act, pass rational gun control legislation and invest in human capital/infrastructure do not ring the Republicans’ bell. Instead, Democrat policy proposals are too often mislabeled as dangerous socialism, no matter the public need or the improvement to the lives of our citizens.
Elected Republicans are determined to stay in power, and Trump supporters want the nation to return to Donald Trump’s vision of “Make America Great.” Under this survivalist view, there is little room to engage in formulating public policy. From the exiled Trump Cabal in Florida to our own David Ball in Washington County, many Republicans insist on circling the wagons with the limited objective of fighting off an imaginary “socialist onslaught” and “invasion” of immigrants. The primary goal appears to be returning a disgraced brand of Trump-inspired white nationalism to the White House.
This commentary will consider how Republicans could change their behavior without abandoning their principles. A shift from the negativity of political survival to a positive participation in the political process to achieve deliberated and lasting results.
Pandemic relief: Republicans continue to brand the pandemic as an excuse for Democratic governmental overreach when none was needed. Instead, party leaders and their followers should cut their losses and support the Biden administration’s eradication efforts. The party should insist on a bipartisan effort to develop a rapid response system to knock down virus outbreaks. This would prevent the need for further economic shutdowns or restrictions on individual liberties, both important Republican objectives.
Immigration reform: Last week, several Republican senators visited the southern border to attack the processing of those seeking asylum. In truth, the surge of those seeking asylum began on Trump’s watch. Dire conditions in Central America drove the migrants north in the spring of the last three years. Republicans should work to develop a bipartisan immigration bill that would please the business owners and border residents who support them. Moreover, Catholic Latino voters tend to be conservative and will reward Republican elected officials for being proactive on immigration.
Election and voter reform: Republicans continue to lean on the “big lie” of a stolen national election to justify unprecedented efforts to change the rules of voting and representation. Two hundred fifty-three bills in 43 states seek to tighten voting rules. Conversely, the Democrats through legislative action at the federal level are attempting to pass a bill that would tear down barriers to voting and would undo some of the changes being proposed in state legislatures. Republicans in Congress should compromise on the federal proposals by adding honest efforts to make voting more secure while accepting provisions that increase access to the ballot box. Ironically, many of the federal mandates sought by Democrats, like expanded use of absentee ballots, are measures supported by older Republican voters.
Rational gun control: The night before the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing to address “Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence,” another mass shooting occurred in Boulder, Colo. Less than a week earlier, a gunman killed eight people in the Atlanta area. Firearms deaths reached a 50-year high in 2017, with 40,000 killed. The recent efforts in Congress for rational gun control center on modest bills to expand and strengthen background checks. Four in five Americans support these efforts. It is time for Republicans to turn away from the morally and financially bankrupt NRA to reach a compromise on gun control. As remarked by President Biden last week, “This is not and should not be a partisan issue – it is an American issue.”
Disadvantaged children: The Biden administration has proposed to establish a national pre-K and childcare program. Such an initiative would advance the educational prospects for many children and make it easier for both parents in low-income households to hold jobs. It has also proposed universal health care for children to address the ugly secret that American children ages 1 to 19 are 57% more likely to die than children in other wealthy countries (Jan. 8, 2018, Journal of Health Affairs). Republicans should view these Democrat efforts as long overdue social security for minors to reverse a lengthy history of child neglect. Healthy, well-educated children are needed to replace the retired boomer generation in our new information age economy, a primary Republican goal.
Our nation needs two robust, forward-looking political parties committed to seeking rational compromise on public policy. Honest debate produces better policy that will stand up over time. We do not need Republicans dedicated to the survival of one man and his un-American ideology of hate, fear and self-promotion.
Gary Stout is a Washington attorney.
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