How Do Democrats Differ From Republicans?


I came across this report from Politico a few weeks ago, and it seemed to sum things up well.  The House Agriculture Committee was debating the farm bill, and particularly Republicans’ efforts to decimate the Food Stamp program.  Rep. Joe Baca (D-California) protested:

As a young father, Rep. Joe Baca had himself relied on food stamps, and during the House Agriculture Committee debate, the California Democrat emotionally invoked the Gospel of Jesus feeding hundreds from a few fish and loaves of bread. Rather than sympathy, this brought a sharp rebuke from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.). “Nowhere in Scripture did God give instruction to government over us as the individual,” said the Christian conservative. “Read it, sir. He was speaking to individuals not governments.”

I really think that in an important way this sums things up.  Baca says that we have to feed the poor; Southerland attacks him, saying that this has nothing to do with what Jesus said, because Food Stamps are the government, not us.

For Democrats, government is the way that we as a people get together and figure out what “our ” priorities are.  For Republicans, government isn’t an us: it is an it.  It is some sort of amorphous, alien blob, out there.  It has nothing to do with us: it simply controls us.  We might make fun of Republicans saying that “the government should keep its hands off of my Medicare,” but it reflects something important about perceptions.  If it is something we experience, then it isn’t the government, because the government is “out there.”

And as the Medicare example reveals, this is very much a sort of fundamental paradigm: inconvenient facts can be dismissed as outliers, or untrue, or even just ignored.  This will take a lot of very patient, frustrating work to cure: after all, people believed in the Ptolemaic universe for centuries.  And I’m not even sure that it is “curable” because it reflects a moral view, not a scientific one.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

42 thoughts on “How Do Democrats Differ From Republicans?”

  1. For many (not all, but many) Republicans, the substitute institution is the Church. Their church. Maybe that other church that’s a lot like it. Dunno about that wierd church down the block. And certainly not Mosques.

    1. Definitely not the weird church down the block and maybe not that other kind of different church across the street. Mosques, synagogues, Sikh/Hindu/Buddhist places of worship and Wiccan covens are definitely excluded.

  2. I think in addition that Republicans citing scripture would see governments providing such support as performing actions that religious organizations and authorities ought to be controlling. Sort of a Sharia law thing, I suppose.

    1. I agree. When asked about paying taxes Jesus replied “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” Knowledgeable Republicans (insofar as one is talking about evangelical Christian Republicans) would take that to mean that the actions of the government are different than the actions of the church.

  3. Of course, the guy making this statement is a high official of the government, and has probably been on the government teat his whole working life. It’s the pious hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Since the clod says he’s a Christian, I hope he enjoys his eternity in torment.

  4. According to Wikipedia, Rep Southerland is new to Congress (voted in, 2010). He seems to have inherited the family business as an undertaker. So, no hypocrisy on
    that–although he has served two terms on the state board for regulating
    funeral homes, so he is presumably OK with some government activities.

  5. What is odd to me is that this separation only applies to certain things. Roads, schools, military, etc. are things done by the state as “us”.

    1. At the rate the public school system is being dismantled and privatized, I don’t know if you should include them in the same list as roads and military…

      Eli, have you been over to yet? I know education is one of your things, and I can’t recommend this four-month old blog enough. Teachers are writing in from all over and it is an on-the-ground view of the school deform movement that I don’t think exists anywhere else.

      Everyone else, I’m sorry for being so off-topic — education may be the area where Democrats and Republicans are most alike. Sigh.

      1. Oh yeah – I used to read her and Deborah Meier’s blog a lot. I’ve been taking a break from education politics a bit lately because it’s so depressing! But I follower her on twitter and she’s quite the phenom there.

        As for the privatization of schools, I couldn’t agree more. Schooling is more segregated than ever, with charters really moving things in that direction, chasing white/middle class flight. The idea of mixing free markets with a socialist concept like public education is completely batty. The problems in education are a *direct* result of free markets, with power and capital segregating and reinforcing class structures. But current reformers ignore all this, and then add insult to injury by embracing a free market model which not only denies realities of teaching the disadvantaged, but denies their disadvantage by assuming in them the power to leverage school choice to their will.

        In the end, its all about doing social reform on the cheap, pretending that more investment doesn’t matter, avoiding social responsibility for inequality by minimizing the psychological and social effects of disadvantage, and that larger structural problems don’t exist.

        1. I work with a poor town that has an old nice abandoned brick school building, but no local school. The nearest school is a 20-minute drive away. I thought it would be great if a private or charter school could use the old building for a local school. I got in touch with the state’s charter school advocacy organization to see if they were interested.

          As soon as they heard about the small population base and low income levels in that town, they were all, “Yeah … no.”

        2. I think we have to distinguish among private-sector participants. I can’t say enough bad things about for-profit education, although there may till be a few respectable for-profit trade schools. But non-for-profit private education has had some successes, although its been a mixed bag.

        3. Regardless of the pros and cons of charter schools and other alternates to traditional public schools, it’s very likely the tipping point has been passed.

  6. As you can see, there is often also a denial of representative democracy. To them, the government is “over us,” it is not a result of voters’ decisions. That is why so many of them get away with saying ahistorical nonsense, like “taxation is theft.”

    1. Have to disagree somewhat. For the folks in question our gov’t is representational as long as it serves the thoroughly inculcated values of concentrated capital, and accompanying socio-emotional simplicity that applies across economic strata. As I’ve aged I’ve become increasingly convinced that the shortcomings of conservative thought, at least as instantiated in empire, cannot stand the strain of complexity. I see this again and again; the examples present themselves almost too perfectly. Conservative thought, at least in our public sphere, seems to always run aground the shores of some further demand for further consideration, where a core need for an objective, definitive clarity seems to answer a fundamental anxiety about….everything.

  7. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”

    Romans 13, 1-2.

    Read it, Sutherland, and weep.

    1. Given how they manage to take “the love of money is the root of all evil” to heart, I don’t think Romans is going to make much of an impression either.

      1. And let’s not forget, “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

  8. Another point that reinforces Jonathan’s. Traditionally the miracle has been understood as beneficent divine magic: the five fishes and three loaves were multipled in Jesus’ private cornucopia. Impressive but not much of a model. Or you can read it more naturalistically. Many in the crowd have brought food, but they are hiding it because they are worried about losing it to freeloaders and going hungry themselves. The boy’s generosity is picked out by Jesus, and used to trigger a wave of emulation. As it turns out, there really is plenty to go round, if only everybody shares. Spontaneous communism! Republicans really don’t like this.

    1. “Spontaneous communism! Republicans really don’t like this.”

      Don’t know about Republicans, but libertarians would be OK with it.

      1. Apparently there really is such a thing as a free lunch. Just don’t bring any food and rely on the generosity of others. It’s the Republican economic model in action!

  9. I’m a stone atheist and a believer in a solid wall of separation between church/mosque/synagogue/coven/temple and state, so Jesus-based arguments hold no sway with me. I believe in feeding the hungry because we can do it and it’s the right thing to do. In a rich country, no one should have to go without food. But maybe, instead of (more likely in addition to) SNAP, we (the government) should operate dining halls like churches do. That way, everyone gets a nutritious, filling meal at minimal expense, snd they sit down and get to know their neighbors. Now empty buildings get used, the low-skill unemployed get put on the government payroll and receive valuable work experience in the restaurant industry (I know it’s a crap job, but it beats being unemployed), and we don’t have to worry about taxpayer funds being spent on soda and chips. Maybe some people learn something about nutrition, too.

    I know not everyone likes the same food, but we could offer a small variety of choices, such as veg/nonveg, or maybe every Tuesday is meatloaf night or something like that. Maybe make being poor and hungry a tiny bit less miserable because you know you’re not alone.

    I realize that people who have jobs and still qualify for nutrition assistance are probably too busy for a program like this, and why shouldn’t they be able to spend quiet mealtimes with their families just like better-off people do, so let’s not do away with SNAP, but maybe if you’re not in education, training, or employment, particularly if you’re single and childless, this could be a winner. Who knows? Maybe you show up for a meal, and you meet someone, fall in love, get married, and find a way out of poverty, or at least loneliness. I guess I’m just a romantic.

    1. I absolutely agree with this. I think the left should be making the argument that citizenship involves responsibilities to the community, not just privileges.

      1. Absolutely. This message seems to get lost much of the time, maybe in part from a (necessary) focus on good policy, esp. the triage following Visigothican presidencies. Or from another perspective – one’s “conscience” might be a less important factor than organic social interrelatedness.

    2. A suggested minor tweak: make it open to anybody, swipe your SNAP/EBT/Whatever-They’re-Calling-It-Right-Now card OR your credit or debit card, where nobody can see what you’re doing, so there’s no stigma to it, and encourage it to just be part of the community.

      I mean, what you’re suggesting seems like a great thing for everybody, not just The Poor. And things which are done by EVERYBODY help build community, rather than being a thing that Those People Over There do.

      Make it a meal hall for poor people, you make it a shameful thing for people to do. Make it a meal hall for everybody, then it’s no shame, (even if the Gummint helps subsidize some of the folks).

  10. Interesting — Republicans do not seem to apply the individual/government distinction to sexual and reproductive matters.

  11. Great articulation of the difference between Republicans and Dems. On the same note, I’ve never quite understood why Republicans hate the American government so vehemently. Yes, they tax us, but they also provide schools, roads, a postal service, an army, police and fire forces, etc etc. Government provides many measurably positive things.

    I’ve had very little reason in my life to hate or despise government. Aside from perhaps doing my taxes once a year and an occasional stop by the police for speeding or a slow post office line, my interactions with government are bland at worst and positive at best.

    So where do you think conservatives’ hatred and animosity for the US government comes from?

      1. I don’t think there is a single answer that covers everyone who is anti-government. Some think government is inefficient; others think it’s immoral; of course, some think both. Some would object to your inclusion of schools in your list of public services. They think education is something that can be better done privately. Others go further, preferring to privatize roads as well. For others, it seems to be an extreme form of individualism with roots in classical liberalism intensified by American political culture (anti-authoritarian from the start, what with fighting royal rule and affirming individual rights). They seem to hate the idea that we should compromise between our individual autonomy and the general welfare (so we shouldn’t have to give up our money, or guns, to the state for our common good, because our right of property is sacred). This would make any discussion of the harmful effects of privatization or unfettered individual liberty irrelevant. Doesn’t matter how many people go hungry or homeless, how many die by gunfire, etc., we have no business legislating on these matters because doing so would limit our individual automony.

        1. It’s strange to me to hold reality hostage to some abstract ideal that doesn’t even work. Yet this is what I see with the Tea Party especially, and with more conservative Republicans: actually feeding people, providing education, providing services that improve the quality of life, are derided in favor of wearing tricorn hats and talking about a mythologically pure constitution that never really existed anyway. I thought this kind of grand narrative/utopian thinking disappeared with the failure of Communism and other totalitarianisms.

          It puzzles me, too, that you can point to Scandinavian countries that by all measures have a better quality of life, greater happiness, and arguably similar freedoms as us, yet the Right condemns these places as “socialist.” The Right’s values are out of whack: is the goal greater freedom in some abstract sense, no matter if it makes the majority of peoples’ lives worse; or should the goal be making more peoples’ lives better while preserving freedom?

  12. As the genius man (Ben Goldacre) says, “You can’t reason people out of positions they didn’t reason the,selves into.”

  13. Republicans say, “If you want to feed the poor, go ahead. But I’m using MY money to buy power and rule over you.”

  14. So according to Republicans, corporations are people but governments are not. Well that clears things up considerably.

    1. Indeed. Right wingers like to talk about Dred Scot being a bad SCOTUS decision as an anti-abortion dog whistle. They don’t bother to clarify that the “corrected” Dred Scot decision would read: people have no rights which a corporation is obliged to respect.

  15. “government is the way”
    Isn’t it one of multiple ways? You could say that other forms of mutual aid don’t involve ALL the people coming together, but a lot of people don’t participate in the political process either. Government has some particular characteristics (it can do some things that can’t be done otherwise), and those are the characteristics to look at to see if it is the right way to approach a problem.

    Dennis, you might be interested in William Saletan’s article at Slate indicating that Pat Robertson(!) is now viewing mosques & Sikh temples as facing a common threat from the anti-church menace:

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