Are you a donkey or an elephant? It seems that our brains determine what our politics will be, though some would argue that our nurture has a lot to do with it too. Whatever we believe, there is still a lot of confusion about the two sides of political discourse in the United States, so here is a brief precis of the two belief systems:
Broadly speaking, democrats are left-leaning and liberal. The liberal outlook is all about equality: liberals believe that the whole of society is best served by treating everyone equally and ironing out inequalities in money or treatment whenever possible. This means that liberals believe in free universal health care and a high level of welfare provided by the government.
Democrats are also great believers in personal freedom. They support gay marriage, and the legalisation of abortion, and strive for equal pay and treatment for women and minorities. They believe in a higher level of government intervention. This government intervention, they believe, will protect each individual while they strive towards equality for all.
This intervention can include the enactment of certain laws, for example those placing restrictions on gun ownership. It can also include raising taxes. Democrats believe that the rich should pay more in order to help those less fortunate than themselves, which increases equality, thus benefiting the whole of society.
Broadly speaking, Republicans are right-leaning and conservative. This means that they are in favour of a low level of government intervention, lower taxes, and a free market, in which the private sector (big business) is in control. They believe in personal responsibility, and the rights of individuals to govern their own affairs.
This means that they oppose measures to redistribute wealth, and think instead that wealth will ‘trickle down’ from the rich to the poor through mechanisms of free market economics. Everyone, they say, can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, if given the opportunity. However, they are against anything that challenges the traditional values of society, like gay marriage, legalised abortion or stem-cell research.
Republicans are great believers in personal freedom. They are against restricting the American’s right to bear arms, and believe in a smaller, less powerful central government, which does not try to tell people how to live their lives. Because people have personal responsibility for their own lives, they believe in harsh sanctions (like the death penalty) for those who do wrong. They also believe that charity is the responsibility of individual people, not the state. People who do well, they believe, should not be penalised by high taxes.
Freedom – what is that?
One of the main points of contention between the two parties surrounds the word freedom and what that word means. This is difficult to reconcile. For democrats, freedom means the right to be equal to everyone else, and live in a just society run for the good of all. People should be free, they say, to be themselves – they are liberal, remember, on gender and sexual politics, and in the field of minority rights.
But they believe that the freedom of all is best served by creating laws set by central government and by high levels of taxation on the rich. Majority freedom is more important than an individuals personal right to do what they want. Republicans on the other hand believe that freedom is all about being released from heavy-handed governments.
They think American citizens should be free to carry guns if they want and that wealthy, successful people should be free to earn without having their money taken from them through taxation. But their conservative viewpoint does not allow for freedoms of sexuality, nor for anything that challenges a traditional religious viewpoint. Those things do not, they believe, best serve the whole of society. Whatever you believe, the good thing is that you can choose – that is the beauty of a democracy.