A few days ago, while reading a political theory book, I stumbled upon the basic concepts and beliefs of the two major U.S. political parties. Briefly, and quite simplistically, the Republican Party stands for limited government. It maintains that people should be allowed to use as they wish the benefits of their work, money that is, and that the government’s interference in private affairs should be minimal. On the other hand, the Democratic Party believes in more government control, in a society where affairs are regulated by the government. These ideologies are very much reflected in the economic policies of the parties. The Republican Party wishes to limit taxation and public funding while the Democrats want to tax the rich and fund all sorts of public programs. This fundamental difference is very much apparent in the Medicare debate where the Republican Party campaigned against president Obama’s reform, amongst other things, on the basis of the limitation of individual freedom. In other words, that people should be allowed to spend their money, and choose their medical care without government control.
I will not go into the Medical Care debate at this time. My goal is to show something very interesting about American politics. While I was reading those definitions I immediately thought of the ethics and values of society. The American society is pretty much divided in half when it comes to issues such as abortion or gay marriage (although recent polls indicate a slight majority supporting the latter). These issues are issues that involve values. It is very hard to support, in legal terms, that a woman having an abortion is going to impact anyone around her (again I will not go into the fetus’s rights at this point) or that a gay couple marrying will affect anyone else but them. These issues, we can pretty much agree, are issues of what kind of a society we want. What kind of values do we want to represent as a nation? But those issues, at the same time, are very private issues. This is, I believe, one of the reasons why people are so divided on them. There is a difference between foreign policy and the economy, which are national issues that directly affect the society as a whole, and a woman’s right over her body.
And here’s the weird thing. In my mind, those who would want to control such issues, issues of ethics that is, would be those who believed in government interference. If you believe that the government should regulate, or play a significant role in the way people live their lives and spend their resources, you will be more interested in regulating what kind of a society you want to have, to regulate something such as gay marriage. And if you believe that people should be free to use their resources as they wish and that government should be there to allow people that freedom then you would be more prone to stay away of such issues, because regulating them is not contingent with the idea of individual freedom.
Yet in America, the opposite happens. The Republican Party wants to regulate matters of faith, contraception, marriage, sex education. It is trying to dictate what people should believe and should do while the Democratic Party, in most cases, does the opposite. So while the parties in regards to economic affairs promote policies that are in agreement with their core values, in social affairs the roles are reversed. It seems almost hypocritical to me on the one hand, for one to support that they will not provide money for another’s health care because they should be allowed to use them as they wish and on the other hand to try and regulate someone else’s choices and beliefs.
This inconsistency is truly remarkable to me. Maybe because I’m European and over here politics are very different (if you want to know what a true liberal is, please take a moment and cross the pond, you will be surprised). Yet, it is truly unimaginable to me that someone who doesn’t care if I live or die would care so much about who I sleep with.