By Kirkwood Callahan • Guest Columnist
In the election of 2008 many Americans aspired for hope and change when Barack Obama won the White House and Democrats increased their majorities in Congress. Today signs of buyers’ remorse are everywhere.
Disgruntled voters opposed to policy proposals of the majority party confront senators and representatives. Thousands march on Washington to protest legislation that accrues more power for the national government, diminishes individual choices, and grows the national debt.
The disconnect between citizens and the Democratic Party is best illustrated by the debate over health care. Democrats differ as to whether to have government-run health insurance (public option) or nonprofit insurance cooperatives and who to tax to defray costs, but all Democratic bills result in government controlling the nation’s health care .
However, on Sept. 30 a Gallup Poll showed that the overwhelming majority of Americans embraced individual responsibility and rejected the idea of government responsibility for healthcare by 61 percent to 37 percent.
Polls have also shown that the majority of Americans are satisfied with their health insurance, and contrary to White House efforts, more of the nation’s physicians are opposing control by Washington and offering alternatives. Recently three former presidents of the American Medical Association — including a spokesman for an association of 10,000 physicians — advocated in a Wall Street Journal article for low cost health savings accounts, tax credits for individual and family health insurance policies, and comprehensive malpractice reform. GOP lawmakers have proposed the same ideas along with portable health insurance that can be sold across state lines.
There are many other areas where the Democratic party is disconnected from the concerns of the many — a disappointing lack of transparency as health care reform legislation is packaged in documents with over 1,000 pages of arcane language, a largely unspent $787 billion “stimulus” bill passed in February, and indecisiveness over the war in Afghanistan.
The situation at home where North Carolina is ruled by a Democratic legislature and a Democratic governor is no less encouraging.
Higher taxes are levied upon citizens as unemployment lurches toward 11 percent. This fiscal year’s budget was reduced because of the recession’s shortfalls in revenues, but in the preceding six-year period state spending increased more than 50 percent while the population increased only by about 10 percent. Where did the money go?
Much evidence shows it did not get to the right places.
Last December the Raleigh News and Observer reported on the dysfunctional state parole and probation system. The Observer revealed that “Since the start of 2000, 580 offenders have killed while on probation. Probation officers, hamstrung by vacancies and a sloppy bureaucracy, can’t locate nearly 14,000 criminals.”
Seven months after this report Patrick Burris, a parolee, murdered five people in South Carolina. To date, the parole-probation system still lacks resources necessary to perform its essential responsibility of protecting the public.
In 2007, funds for outpatient care for mental health patients were slashed, but from 2004-7 over $81 million went to “health and wellness” centers at UNC Asheville and Western Carolina University. During the 2007-9 budget cycles the General Assembly allocated $7 million a year for retreat centers for teachers while many of their colleagues faced job losses when the recession’s crunch came. Other examples of misallocated resources are too numerous to list here.
To whom should disillusioned voters turn? Many, disappointed in the Republican party in years past, have suggested a new party combining the energies of independents and other disaffected groups to find a way out of the nation’s morass.
However, those who would turn to a third or independent party should think about it further. There is no objective evidence to think an independent movement could marshall the political experience essential to run the government. Behind efforts to drive more and more power to Washington is an entrenched politicized bureaucracy in the legislative and executive branches. A new party, if it could elect candidates, would flounder on the rocks of partisan barriers that no beginner could navigate. Also, voters of conservative inclinations who reject Republicans for other candidates may see their votes produce unintended consequences.
In the 2008 election, Obama received all of the state’s electoral votes by receiving only 14,177 more votes than John McCain. Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate received 25,722 votes. Write-in candidates received 13,942 votes.
The Republican Party and its new leadership has the party structure for a return to fiscal responsibility and a concern for constituents’ opinions. But first it must achieve majority status in Congress and the General Assembly.
In our legislative branches, it is the majority party that determines the chairmanships of committee, and it is in committees where the nitty gritty work of legislation is done. The most important decision that each member of Congress makes is the decision to organize with his party at the beginning of each session. Conservative voters may think Blue Dog Democrats advance their values, but the reality is that all Democrats must work within a committee structure dominated by liberal chairmen and co-chairmen. The liberals set the agenda. Ask Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid.
The Democratic leadership in Raleigh’s General Assembly similarly mutes conservative Republicans efforts.
Voters rejecting the change of the Obama Democrats would best serve their interests by supporting the Republican effort to claim majority status. The Republican Party, following significant defeats in two general elections, has returned to its roots and with new dedication affirmed its commitments to core conservative principles: limited government, local control, individual responsibility, strong defense and sound stewardship of state and national finances.
Kirkwood Callahan is retired and lives in Waynesville. He has taught government at four southern universities.