Basically, that disagreement involves the role government should play in people’s lives:
- Democrats believe that excellent and affordable health care should be a right of all citizens of the world’s wealthiest nation; Republicans believe it should be a privilege.
- Democrats believe that government should be strong, to serve and protect its citizens; Republicans believe it should be weak, so as not to interfere with the rights and privileges of private entities (especially business interests).
That’s really what we’re all talking about when we discuss American politics: how big or small government should be and what it should or should not do for its citizens.
That’s why Republicans don’t see it as a crisis that over 45,000,000 people in America are uninsured (with many millions more under-insured or at risk of losing their health insurance if they should dare to get sick). Lack of adequate insurance or health care may be a crisis for individuals and their families, but Republicans regard it as their problem, not our problem.
Democrats take the approach that we're all responsible for the quality of life in America, and it’s a shame—our shame—if certain classes of people lack quality of life because of their circumstances.
These fundamental differences explain why Republicans (as well as libertarians and other “conservatives”) are always so eager to give rights and responsibilities to the states, rather than the federal government. In general, they’d rather have 50 relatively weak “governments” (not counting those of the territories) than a strong federal government.
Over the years, Republican administrations have set about limiting the power of federal bureaus and agencies and transferring resources to the states. (For an outstanding explanation of just how this works, I recommend The Wrecking Crew, by Thomas Frank.) Results of this became apparent during the Bush administration, as federal agencies—generally with reduced funding and often headed by people who thought the agency itself should be abolished—began to fail to protect the American people.
Thus FEMA proved completely inadequate to help the people of New Orleans deal with Katrina; the infrastructure continued to crumble in the face of inaction by the Federal Highway Administration; the EPA failed to protect the environment; and the FDA proved inadequate to protect consumers against food poisoning.
With decisions involving the distribution of federal monies being made by the states (a practice that inevitably siphons off a good deal of any budget by supporting two bureaucracies instead of one), school funding is shamefully unequal from state to state, minimum wages range from $8.55 (in Washington) to $5.15 (in Wyoming), and people in Ohio can get $250 for trading in certain appliances that residents of my state cannot.
At yesterday's summit, Eric Cantor trotted out his old trick of slapping the 2000+ pages of the current proposed health reform legislation on the table in front of him to illustrate how bloated and complicated it allegedly is—as if number of pages signifies anything. But I have two questions:
- How long is too long for a document that might save your child's life?
- What's more complicated—one way of doing things, or 50?