The Ascending Issue In Our Democracy Is Democracy Itself

Kevin DeWineThe new Ohio GOP Chair-elect, Kevin DeWine, likes to talk about ideas. (See below.) He says, “The reason I got into politics and elected office was to advance Republican ideas.” And, he says, “Time after time, (Republicans) win the contest of ideas with the Democrats.”

DeWine is not so much talking about “contests of ideas” as he is talking about “contests of marketing,” and, he is saying that he has a lot faith in the marketability of the Republican “message.” He says, “I believe that when an Ohioan hears our ideas, ideas based on the traditional Republican principles that this party was founded on — traditional Republican principles of lower taxes, smaller government, free enterprise, individual responsibility, ethical conduct, moral character — we will win.”

The point of winning, according to DeWine, is to gain the opportunity to implement public policy. DeWine says, “The first thing we have to recognize as Republicans is that if we want to talk about Republican public policy — making good public policy for the state of Ohio — we have to recognize that the first thing we have to do is to win elections.” He speaks of the “shareholders,” and “investors,” who give money to Republicans, and says, “We have to commit that generosity (of the investors) to a singular goal. And that is victory.”

Repeated Republican victories, in fact, have allowed the implementation of many Republican policies, including the 2005 income tax reduction law (reducing every tax payer’s Ohio income tax by 4.2% each year for five years). This law will reduce, annually, Ohio’s income taxes by $2 billion. Significantly, it will make Ohio’s income tax code less progressive. Ann Hanauer of Policy Matters writes, “Fully 23 percent (of the tax cut) will go to the top one percent of taxpayers — those making over $274,000 a year — while the lowest three-fifths will get just 14%.” Hanauer says, “In recent years, Ohio’s tax burden has shifted from corporations to individuals and from higher income households to lower income families.”

I don’t recall much debate about how this tax cut will impact state programs. I don’t recall much debate concerning the justification of making the income tax structure less progressive. I don’t remember much of a “contest of ideas” concerning Republican policy at all.

Republican marketing has been very effective. But, it seems to me, increasingly the electorate is resisting the efforts of marketers, and increasingly is disgusted with a political process that, time and again, fails to advance the public good. The irony of our effort to build democracy in Iraq is the fact that our own democracy is barely functioning and is in need of a building effort itself. A consensus view is growing that ours is a very weak democracy and that our government is a far cry from one that is “of the people, for the people.” The ascending issue in our democracy, in my judgment, is democracy itself.

Central to the degradation of our democracy is the activity and attitudes of our major political parties. Both parties advance their own interests, via gerrymandering and other undemocratic actions, and in so doing extract a great cost to our democracy as a whole. DeWine likes to talk about ideas, but, in the list of ideas he mentions in his candidacy speech, he does not include the idea of democracy. If he had spoken to the Republican Central Committee in terms of democracy, something like, “I believe that the Republican Party should do everything possible to advance authentic democracy,” I doubt he would have been elected to the position of Ohio Republican Chair. Political parties like to win and winning is really the central idea driving the activities of political parties. Advancing democracy, I imagine, to the Republicans Central Committee, would not sound like a very reliable strategy.

I would like to think that the grassroots, ordinary citizens, will demand more of their political parties, and will reward at the voting booth the political party that most thoroughly empowers citizens to meaningfully participate in their own democracy. The idea of democracy, itself, I believe, will increasingly drive our politics, and increasingly the idea of democracy will be the benchmark used for evaluating the actions and the merit of political parties.

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