Republican Party Platform Expedition Part III: Miscellaneous and Social Policy

by Benjamin Studebaker

Today we resume our expedition through the positions taken by the Republican Party in its new platform. Last time, we talked about constitution and energy policy. Today we’ll be going over a section of miscellaneous policies along with a section on social and education policy. There remains one further section on foreign policy, which will be left for a final Part IV. So once again, let us don our hiking boots and resume our exploration.

The miscellaneous section opens with an elongated policy proposal to “modernise” Medicare and Medicaid, by which is meant “turning them into voucher programmes”. This flies in the face of some factual information, such as the fact that private insurance costs have consistently increased at a higher rate than Medicare/Medicaid costs. There’s piles of evidence for that claim.

There’s also the zombie idea from Bush’s second term about privatising social security. The accounting that proclaims social security is in crisis is reliant on excluding the surpluses social security has run in the past to keep it funded in times of deficit, something Krugman has hit upon in the past.

There are a few choice bits about regulation:

no peril justifies the regulatory impact of Obamacare on the practice of medicine, the Dodd-Frank Act on financial services, or the EPA’s and OSHA’s overreaching regulation agenda.

What is remarkable is just how easy it is to think of perils that do indeed justify those programmes. One would think that the republicans would choose easier targets. Obamacare exists to correct the peril of millions of Americans remaining uninsured and consuming large amounts of tax money through emergency room visits by requiring all Americans to buy health insurance and providing subsidies to help poor Americans to do so–this ensures a large enough pool of customers for insurers to insure everyone profitably, even people with preexisting conditions. Financial regulation is incomplete, but clearly needed, as the investment banking free for all that lead to the global economic crisis clearly illustrated. What little financial reform that has been passed is certainly not worth disposing of. The EPA and OSHA were brought into being to protect the health and safety of the American people and the American environment, a job that clearly is not yet done, as catastrophes like the BP oil spill continue to slip past regulators. All three areas of insufficient regulation could themselves have blog posts, if I found the time to write them.

There’s another interesting section on protecting internet freedom that contradicts the way many republicans supported bills like SOPA and PIPA when they were under discussion, a repeat of what we discussed in the previous segment.

There’s a large section decrying illegal immigration. It attacks amnesty policies and regards illegal immigrants as security threats, as opposed to legal immigrants, which receive praise.  It also praises states like Arizona that have enacted punitive immigration laws independently of federal policy. There are millions of illegal immigrants in the United States, and removing all of them seems like a more or less impossible proposition, but this platform offers no alternative and seems to be standing on principle. Illegal immigration is declared to be wrong simply because it is illegal, not because of any negative consequences resulting from it–quite deontological. I find the distinction arbitrary and xenophobic.

There’s a bit of an odd juxtaposition that follows–the republicans discuss Native American policy and say that decisions should be made more by local tribal councils and less by federal regulators. Yet, immediately after this, there is a section on Washington DC, which proposes precisely the opposite–more congressional intervention into DC politics at the expense of the DC local government:

We join their call for a non-partisan elected Attorney General to clean up the city’s political culture and for congressional action to enforce the spirit of the Home Rule Act assuring minority representation on the City Council. After decades of inept one-party rule, the city’s structural deficit demands congressional
attention…We oppose statehood for the District of Columbia.

It should be noted that, in DC, African Americans are the majority racial group, so the call for minority representation is a call for more white representation. This flies in the face of the principles contained in the rest of the platform and seems to do so for no other reason than because the DC local government is predominately left wing and made up of democrats.

There is some commendable support for NASA and a pledge to maintain America’s preeminent role in space exploration, but no specifics about how that is to be done, with no promise to increase funding.

The miscellaneous section closes with a bit on US territories, including this odd line:

The Pacific territories should have flexibility to determine the minimum wage, which has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.

There is no general rejection of the minimum wage in the platform to this point, but the platform does propose that territories be excluded from federal minimum wage laws. This despite evidence that detrimental impacts of the federal minimum wage minimal or non-existent, of course.

This brings us to the section on social policy, which opens with a passage promoting traditional two-parent heterosexual marriage.

This is followed by a section addressing poverty mostly by praising mid-nineties welfare reform, a topic we discussed extensively in yesterday’s post.

There is praise for adoption, which makes sense, given the platform’s anti-abortion rights stance.

There is a bit on “making the internet family friendly”, which proposes illegalising internet gambling and more aggressive enforcement of laws concerning paedophilia.

There is opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, which is not a surprise.

A large section is devoted to opposing Obamacare, as expected. I have defended various parts of Obamacare earlier in this post and elsewhere. The platform’s alternative proposal seeks to eliminate discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions, but doesn’t provide the individual mandate necessary to make it profitable for companies to do so. It spends a lot of time attacking medical malpractise cases, and proposes lowering costs by reducing federal requirements on what plans provide along with allowing purchase of insurance across state lines, despite differences in laws in the various states. I do not see how the relatively minor, peripheral reforms proposed would achieve the stated goal of reducing costs any more than to a minor, peripheral extent. No big picture changes are proposed.

There is support for increased federal funding for medical research, a very commendable position if the sentiment is genuine. Of course, this comes with traditional republican caveats–no funding for embryonic research, no cloning research, and so on.

There is a major contradiction here:

No healthcare professional or organization should ever be required to perform, provide for, withhold, or refer for a medical service against their conscience. This is especially true of the religious organizations which deliver a major portion of America’s healthcare, a service rooted in the charity of faith
communities. We do not believe, however, that healthcare providers should be allowed to withhold
services because the healthcare provider believes the patient’s life is not worth living. We support the ability of all organizations to provide, purchase, or enroll in healthcare coverage consistent with their religious, moral or ethical convictions without discrimination or penalty.

In other words, if your ethics agree with the ethical views expressed by the Republican Party in its platform, you can act on them medically, but if they do not, they don’t count. Either an individual’s ethical beliefs matter or they don’t. Picking and choosing based merely on whether or not the party agrees with the belief, as is being done here, is cynical.

This is followed by a long discourse on education. There are a few key proposals from the platform here:

  • Teacher accountability
  • More testing
  • More school choice

Accountability usually fails to isolate the variable of teacher performance from other variables impacting students (socioeconomic background, parenting, raw individual ability, etc). Testing in combination with “accountability” just leads to teaching students how to take tests instead of teaching students material. More school choice helps kids with involved parents, but does very little for kids whose parents are inactive in their education.

An attack is made on universities:

Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in
private institutions may be, in State institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure
that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on State officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not
zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.

I would ask the writers of the platform to consider if it might be possible that perhaps the right has run away from fact and intellectualism instead of academics deliberately attempting to undermine them in some kind of sinister plot.

There is a commendable observation that university costs in the United States are too high, and support for the encouragement of online university education and other alternatives to the traditional model that are impressive. No specific radical reforms are proposed, however.

The social policy section concludes with a discussion of crime and prisons, proposing that the best solution is to keep criminals locked up. It seems to hit on several small problems, but to address none of the major issues in this area. There is no mention of the problem of prison overcrowding or of the high costs of the prison population, and no proposals to solve either of those problems.

The remaining section on foreign policy will be tackled at a latter date.