It's obvious to me that I'm suffering from post-traumatic idealistic Republican syndrome. Though I voted for Carter in my very first election at 18, I quickly caught onto the Reagan revolution like the rest of my pro-life, business major, evangelical Christian friends. We were nothing like the hippies before us. We wanted traditional weddings with twelve bridesmaids, not ceremonies in blue jeans on the beach. We joined sororities and fraternities, we expected to marry, earn money and buy houses, we saw the American dream in terms of how we could achieve our goals without interference, not how we could do great things for our country.
I took two classes my senior year at UCLA with professor Robert Dallek (frequent contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, guest on NPR and cable news programs, noted expert on JFK and American presidents). His favorite president: FDR. So here we were in 1982-83 with the Reagan revolution captivating the new generation of young people and my professor did his best to stand up to us. Dallek would open a mike at the end of every class so that students could throw questions at him and he could debate with us. Our classes had 500-600 kids in them and these debates were my favorite part of class. How could FDR be great when he expanded government? Would social security even be around by the time we were 65? And what about the Cold War? How could we solve the press of communism?
We Republicans wanted smaller government, better business opportunities, lower taxes, pride in our country, protection from communism in our hemisphere, freedom for our religious beliefs, and an end to legalized abortion. We were smitten by Reagan's folksy wisdom and strong rhetoric of freedom and the end to communism, his inattention to detail and his addiction to Jelly Bellys. We never got the irony of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" being used as Reagan's campaign theme. (Read the lyrics and cringe.)
I did spend time trying to become an educated conservative (not just a knee-jerk one). But one truism about me: numbers don't stick and I'm not good with policy detail. It's just not how my brain works. So I looked at the philosophical ideals that Reagan put forth and I liked what I believed he believed.
And then... Reagan did so many stupid things that the hagiography now in full swing overlooks. The revisionism of history really rankles me. Does no one remember the $500 hammers and nails paid for with our tax dollars to companies like Lockheed for our military? Have we forgotten the phantom MIGs that never were in Nicaragua but were used as pretext for support to the contras in that region? How about the absurdity of "Star Wars," now credited with the end of the Cold War? Have we gleefully ignored the protections we gave to corrupt leaders in Central America while the people suffered and were slaughtered?
And smaller government? Somehow that ideal never gets achieved by Republicans, even when they get elected by the rhetoric. Reagan and Bush have managed to expand spending and the size of the federal government during their tenures as president more than the Democrats before them, yet no one talks about it. Instead we are told to fear what the horrible Democrats will do if they get the power.
But what really ticks me off is that so many Republicans get elected on their pro-life platform and then ignore the issue (offer no real leadership apart from words)... and here we are 28 years past Reagan's first election without any substantive changes in that law or its application.
Meanwhile, regular life is more expensive and less certain, particularly health care. When I was a kid, my mother paid $25.00 for an annual doctor visit. Since I've been married, we've never been able to afford a regular check-up without insurance. That means when we only had major medical coverage, we never went to the doctor unless we were very sick. Caitrin literally had never seen a doctor until she was ten.
I don't think annual exams are all that important (obviously) or we'd have figured out a way to pay for them, I suppose. But what I resent is the implication that the current health care crisis isn't directly related to the free market as it so absolutely is! Having no controls of any kind has turned the medical world into a money-making machine sustained by the fact that we all must have medical care (they have a built-in vulnerable consumer base). HSAs only help if you have money to put in them. Not everyone does. (I know it's more complicated than this - my father paid for my life through malpractice law... so I know it's complicated. The larger point stands: health care is too expensive with no change in sight.)
Government is not smaller, but bigger. Education is a mess. Our relations with the international leaders of the world, fragile. We are in the middle of a war that has killed over 1 million Iraqi civilians. One million! (Usually we only talk about the American soldiers who have died because, you know, the Republicans consider the Iraqis collateral damage - the price of freedom, don't you know?) We spend 12 billion dollars a month. We are disliked in places as seemingly benign as Italy. Italy!
I'm so fed up with the double speak of the Republican party, I could spit! Yes, I'm terrified of "universal healthcare" - shudder, cringe. I hate the words "universal" as to me they mean handing over personal responsibility as well as a one size fits all solution. I also don't trust the government to do a great job with the whole process.
But. Something. Must. Be. Done.
And I no longer can count on the Republicans to do anything resembling their platform. They consistently do not. The tax cuts are a joke. They help no one in my income bracket. Chump change.
Anyway, I still believe in fiscal responsibility, smaller government, humbler international relationships, and respect for life in the womb. I've grown to also want more emphasis placed on working class needs rather than this "everyone can get ahead if they really want to" garbage. Yeah, works great if you are in the right category of people and live in the right places. Not so easy for the restaurant entrepreneur whose customers all lose their jobs at the plant (because they've been exported to Japan or Mexico) that fuels the whole city's economy.
Today, I can't think of a single reason to vote Republican. I'm not a big fan of the democrats, but given the choices, I'll take Dallek's approach. Maybe FDR, JFK - those models really were better for America long term. That really is why I like Obama.