Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Lament of a lifelong Republican who turned moderate Democrat

In 1960, as a recent college graduate and new Navy Ensign, I registered to vote for the first time as a Republican. For a fiscal and social moderate, the Republican Party was a good place to be. But today's GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln or Eisenhower or Reagan. The Bush Republican Party has moved so far to the right, and is so intolerant of dissent, there is simply no room for moderates anymore.
So, after more than 40 years, I changed affiliation. I simply could no longer associate my name with the neoconservative extremists who have hijacked the Republican Party and have abandoned so many of its most cherished principles. Here are just three examples:

Balanced budget

Traditionally, a balanced budget has been the cornerstone of Republican fiscal management. No more. During his term, Bush and his party have converted the largest surplus in history into the largest deficit. In fiscal year 2004, the federal government spent well over $400 billion more than it collected, the largest deficit in U.S. history, with similar red ink projected for fiscal year 2005. Why?

Because Mr. Bush was determined to push through huge tax cuts, primarily benefiting the wealthy, while funding enormously expensive military operations. As Republican Senator John McCain observed, never before has the federal government cut taxes in the middle of a war.

State sovereignty

Republicans have always defended the sovereignty of the 50 states against overzealous intervention by the federal government -- until recently. In 1994, Oregon voters passed a statewide initiative authorizing physicians to prescribe, but not administer, lethal drugs to dying patients who meet specific criteria. Shortly after taking office, Attorney General John Ashcroft threatened to prosecute physicians so prescribing under the Controlled Substances Act. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this "unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers ... (who) are the primary regulators of professional medical conduct." Why was this not obvious to Bush and Ashcroft?

Individual freedom

The Republican Party has a long history of protecting individual rights and freedoms. Consider, then, the case of the "morning-after" pill. There are 3 million unwanted pregnancies in this country each year. By prescription, the morning-after pill has proven extraordinarily safe and effective for more than a decade. Nevertheless, the Bush FDA refused to allow its sale over the counter, thereby denying millions of women access to last-minute contraception. Why? Principally, because Mr. Bush and his supporters from the religious right believe that a fertilized egg immediately constitutes a human life, even before implantation. Therefore, any disruption of the process constitutes "destruction" of a human life.

Ours is a democracy, not a theocracy. When did it become acceptable for personal religious beliefs to dictate public health policy? Perhaps one day the Republican Party will disassociate itself from those who seek to impose their personal version of God's word on the rest of us, and from those who think that huge income tax cuts for the wealthy constitutes viable economic policy. Until then, I will remain affiliated with the Democratic Party, the only major party that still values dissent and moderation, and still cares about the welfare of the average American.

Steven D. Popell lives in Los Altos Hills, Calif.


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