In my formative years, the U.S. Republican Party was the party of logic, of smart finances and small government. The Republicans were the ones who understood economics. I loved economics, and so loved the Republicans. The GOP wanted to keep the government out of things it had no business being involved in. I agreed with this, and so loved the party even more.
But something happened.
I think I first became disquieted when the Republicans made cutting or eliminating the inheritance / death tax a plank in the party platform. Being a good student of economics, I knew that the best taxes were the ones that caused the least disruption in the economy. If income taxes are too high, people won’t want to work. This disrupts the free market. So the proper way to levy taxation is to focus upon the activities that people will do no matter what the tax rate. Like die, for instance.
The fact that the Republicans ignored sound economics and wanted to eliminate inheritance / death taxes bothered me deeply. It still does. This was the first crack in the edifice of Republican infallibility.
I have always been a firm believer that the government should not interfere in matters that don’t concern it. The Republicans believed this, too. Or so I thought.
In recent years, many members of the American right have been firmly opposed to gay marriage, and have even gotten laws passed forbidding it. I watched all this unfold and wondered: why, exactly, does the government need to say who can make commitments to each other? Why is the party of small government trying to dictate private relationships via legislation?
Some Republicans oppose gay marriage because of religious reasons, and they quote the Bible for proof. But the Bible also forbids tattoos (Leviticus 19.28), eating shellfish (Leviticus 11.10) and round haircuts (Leviticus 19.27). If a constitutional amendment against these activities was put in the GOP platform, at least they would be consistent and worthy of respect because of their religious beliefs. Hypocrisy and deceit in religious matters is particularly loathsome to me.
Listen: I don’t give a damn if Fred wants to marry Tom, or Lucy wants to commit to Debbie. Knock yourselves out. It doesn’t concern me, and it doesn’t concern public policy. It concerns the individuals involved. The idea that the Republicans were getting all Orwellian towards the private lives of Americans creeped me out.
Vonnegut and Finland
My faith in the GOP took another blow when I discovered Kurt Vonnegut. He and I share many similarities. He was a Hoosier (native of the state of Indiana) who was a descendent of German immigrants. As am I.
I believe Vonnegut’s life work could be summed up with this quote from his book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:
God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.
Seriously, how hard is it to be kind to our fellow man? I’ve been lucky: I’ve never had a million dollar medical bill or had to live in a car. But many people have. I’m more than willing to pay higher taxes so that the poor can receive medicine or housing. It’s simply humane, but Republicans are fanatically opposed to it.
This brings me to Finland. I fell in love with a Finn who wanted to live in a place I knew was a socialist welfare-state hellhole. As a good disciple of the Republican Party, I knew that socialist welfare-state hellholes had astronomical taxes, rampant corruption and waste, bankrupt finances and a moribund economy.
But here’s the problem: that turned out not to be true. Finland has a lower unemployment rate, lower debt-to-GDP ratio, better credit rating and a better fiscal balance than America. Here is a country that proves you don’t have to go bankrupt in order to provide free health care, a social safety net and be kind to your fellow citizens. God damn it, Republicans, you have to be kind.
Don’t think that I am now waving red hammer-and-sickle flags at marches and hugging trees in my spare time. I’m not. If you are a regular reader of my column in the Helsinki Times newspaper, you know that if I’m not the farthest-right editorial writer in Finland, I’m close. I have attacked the policies of the Finnish unions and Social Democratic Party so viciously that I’m probably on their enemies list, if they have one.
But I’ve always acted on the belief of sound economic principals and the theory of small government. To this, one can add the new belief, that belief I didn’t have in my formative years, that societal kindness is worth paying for.
So this Republican has come to the odd conclusion that the best candidate for sound public finances, a less intrusive government, and a government that is more kind, is none other than Barack Obama.