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Carlson: Definitions of party

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“You’re really a Republican, you just don’t want to admit it,” my publisher said to me the other day.

“I’m a business Democrat,” I countered, “if you insist on trying to label me.”

“No such thing,” he replied, adding “and just what the heck is that?”

Back and forth we go, having fun by trying to put each other on the defensive and deliberately distorting what the other says. We take our politics seriously and often disagree without being too disagreeable (at least in my case!). At the end of the day, though, we both say a pox on the houses of each party for being enthralled to their particular special interests.

Neither of us has ever voted a straight ticket and both of us sometimes despair about the future direction of both Idaho and the nation. We are both dismayed at the inability of the two parties to work together for the common good.

One of several reasons I would never subscribe to being allied with the Republican Party can best be explained by a recent Pew Research poll. Three out of five self-described Republicans disagreed with the statement that government has a responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. For Democrats, by contrast, three out of four agreed with the statement, and that number has remained fairly constant over the last 25 years.

Significantly, even with Independents there has been a slight decline, with 70 percent agreeing in 1987 but today it has dropped to 59 percent.

Twenty-five years ago three out of five R’s accepted the notion of societal obligation to help the weak, the infirm, the mentally challenged, the homeless, the drug addict, the child of a single mother trapped in poverty. No longer is that the case.

This is a “social Darwinistic” attitude to say the least. Frankly, I don’t want to believe my many Republican friends no longer care about others. Many of them do and many are generous in their donations to various charities.

Rather, I choose to think this appalling factoid reflects that a considerable number of R’s are more concerned about the efficiency of the programs being delivered than that they want to stop the programs. Pew’s research indicates this attitude may indeed be part of the shift away from recognizing there are legitimate needs amongst many of one’s fellow citizens.

Twenty five years ago both major parties and independents were all grouped between 65 percent and 60 percent in agreeing with the statement that when something is run by the government it is usually inefficient and wasteful. Today there is a wide gap with almost eight out of 10 R’s agreeing with that statement but only four out of 10 Democrats.

Therein lies one of the sub-themes of this year’s presidential election, and both parties are crafting messages around it with the D’s portraying the R’s as heartless cost cutters regardless of how many people are hurt, and the R’s portraying the D’s as not recognizing unsustainable costs and that spending has to be cut, along with the proliferation of a gazillion needless regulations.

Fine, let that be part of the debate. What I personally don’t like to see is the vilification of all public employees by some people, who fail to recognize that a game warden they know as Fred, down the street, is a public employee, as is Katrina up the street who works for the Forest Service.

Put a face to the faceless bureaucrat and it’s a lot tougher to denounce your neighbor as some sort of free-loading, lazy government worker who nonetheless will inherit a rich pension plan.

Having a son who did two tours in Iraq when it was still darn dangerous, I have always appreciated folks who would stick out their hand and say to him “thank you for your service.” This 4th of July let me suggest that you do the same to that neighbor who is a public employee (and often a veteran). Say thank you for serving your country and your fellow citizens and tell them you really do appreciate that they work hard just like the rest of us.

I always liked a statement I heard Democratic First District congressional candidate Roy Truby say a few years back: “I have a hard time understanding people who say they love their country but hate their government.” So do I, Roy, so do I. Have a happy 4th of July, folks. Salute that flag and give a prayer of thanks that we truly do live in a great nation.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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