A Conversation with a Friend
Just a few days ago, I sat down with a good friend who happens to be a Democrat. He's highly educated, reasonably well informed, and financially secure. I asked him why he's not a Republican — not to debate him, but to try to better understand him. Abortion came up. So did gun rights — he's never owned a gun and really hasn't given much thought to the Second Amendment. And he said that he doesn't like the "influence" of religious conservatives in my party. But he said these issues were mostly about image and cosmetics.
His comment reminded me of a lunch I had in 2006 with a famous Hollywood actor who will remain nameless. He admitted that it would be devastating to his image if he were seen as anything other than a liberal Democrat. Then, he added with a smile, "but no one knows how I vote." I wonder how many people choose to be Democrats, as he does, because it's a better fit in their social circle? Of course, something similar also happens on our side of the aisle. But given everything that is at stake, it's past the time for choosing parties and candidates based on image.
As my friend and I continued our discussion, he mentioned the environment, and it turned out that we largely agree on environmental issues. He doesn't like cap-and-trade any more than I do, and he acknowledged that he lines up with so-called green Republicans, who are really just Teddy Roosevelt conservationists, more than with the extreme environmentalists in his own party. He isn't in favor of higher taxes, but he believes Republicans make taxes too big an issue. "Raising capital gains from 15 percent to 20 percent," he argued, "isn't as big a deal as you make it out to be." But he agreed with my opposition to the death tax, calling it "clearly unfair." As we ran through the issues, we found ourselves more and more in agreement, especially on the threats to America from our rivals and enemies. When my friend had run out of explanations for why he's not a Republican, I took the opportunity to explain to him why I am.
I began with my observations about the importance of America remaining the strong and leading nation in the world — and he agreed with them. Then I noted each of the major positions of the Democratic Party, pointing out the weakening effect I believe each of them would have on our future. In education, the Democratic Party is so allied with the teachers' unions that it cannot adopt the reforms that would close the achievement gap and elevate our student performance; instead, it simply endeavors to send more money to the same schools to do the same things that have failed in the past.
We agreed on the need to increase productivity to strengthen the economy and raise incomes. With that, I noted that the Democratic Party is so beholden to labor union leaders that it is advancing productivity suicide by promoting a plan to remove a worker's right to a secret ballot, virtually paving the way for worker intimidation and the imposition of unions throughout big and small business. The impact of such a measure on small business and on entrepreneurship would be catastrophic. He couldn't argue with that, or with the fact that productivity is also burdened by the Democrats' obligations to trial lawyers, some of whom prey on employers with frivolous, megamillion-dollar lawsuits, which provide little benefit to the aggrieved plaintiffs but millions in fees for the lawyers.
I acknowledged that each party has special interests. For many Republicans, for example, nothing is more important than preserving the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms or than protecting unborn life. I support both of these "special interests" and pointed out to my friend that even though he disagreed with both of them, they do not weaken the economy or put our nation's future in jeopardy. His party's special interests, on the other hand, would do just that.
The Democratic Party is obsessed with spending more, borrowing more, and taxing more, all of which sap our national strength, I contended. But my friend pointed out that the Republican Party wasn't much better when we held the reins in Washington. I had to agree, at least with respect to spending and borrowing. But we also count among our ranks a good number of spending hawks. They are on the ascendancy in my party, in fact, and are in line with long-standing Republican philosophy. The party is returning to its roots as the party of fiscal discipline. My friend acknowledged that there are many more spending hawks in the GOP than have ever existed or will exist in the Democratic Party.
My friend's party inaugurated and still defends, against all evidence and experience, the welfare policies that created a culture of poverty, diminished our work ethic, and promoted out-of-wedlock births. These effects continue when Democrats resist welfare work requirements or safety-net reforms that would compel unwed fathers to care for their children.
I ran through the undeniable litany of Democratic mistakes since sweeping to power in the elections of 2008. The party leadership is apparently convinced that government knows best. Rather than reform health care by making it more consumer-oriented, it seeks to make ours a single-payer system. Rather than distribute shares in General Motors to the public, it prefers the idea of guiding the company from Washington. And rather than adopt a stimulus bill that would create new jobs in the private sector, it has funded the largest increase in government programs and government jobs in memory. Free enterprise strengthens America, freewheeling government does not, but the Democrats seem almost to fear and distrust markets and free enterprise.
I pointed out that his party has retreated from support of missile defense, perhaps our single most effective protection from rogue nations such as North Korea. Democrats are cutting military spending to make way for domestic priorities and social programs.
I concluded with the observation that on almost every policy issue that would have an impact on our nation's strength, his party chooses the course of weakness. It justifies the choice by insisting that it is attempting to help the disadvantaged, but in reality, surely the most important thing we can do for the disadvantaged is to sustain a strong, than on union bosses, trial lawyers, environment extremists, and the self-interested who want higher government benefits for themselves paid for by higher taxes on others.
I didn't convert my longtime friend. I didn't really expect to, at least not that day. Arguments have to be advanced day in and day out to make progress in this media-charged world. Over and over again we have to make the central point that I made with my friend: If the special interests that control the Democratic Party have their way, they will make America less strong, less secure, less able to generate the highest standard of living for all our citizens, and less able to protect our freedom. The Republicans aren't perfect — far from it, of course — but ours is a party committed to strength and prosperity for all Americans.
From No Apology by Mitt Romney. Copyright © 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC