The press – both national and local – is forever in search of the ever elusive moderate Republican. Many reporters are baby boomers (or older) and have fond memories of the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Many in the press are still hopeful that a new version of one of these moderate heroes can emerge from today’s dysfunctional and radicalized Republican Party.
The great hope for the national press in the comical GOP Presidential cycle is Ohio Governor John Kasich. Unlike Pete Ricketts, Kasich actually relied upon empirical evidence – rather than blind ideology – and signed into law the Obama Care Medicaid expansion.
Not only did Kasich approve expanded health care for the poor, he is the only Republican who has taken responsibility for the disastrous Bush Presidency. As the Ohio Governor once said: “A Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president blew” in 2001 what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office at the time had projected as a $5.6 trillion surplus between 2002 and 2011. “Look, I’ve been saying for a long time – and not just here – when I saw $5 trillion being blown, I never thought it was possible.”
Alas, notwithstanding his isolated acts of heresy discussed here, Kasich is no moderate. As Governor of Ohio, he signed into law a tax cut for the rich that was financed by a regressive sales tax increase and big cuts in school funding. As a Presidential candidate, Kasich – like all Republican Presidential hopefuls – supports a large, deficit financed tax cut that largely favors the wealthy.
Kasich is a standard, party line right wing Republican on issues in addition to taxes. During his tenure as Ohio Governor, Kasich signed into law a bill that took away the rights of many working people to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. (This anti-middle class law was subsequently repealed in a voter referendum.)
The alleged moderate Governor of Ohio took another shot at working families when he signed a bill that radically reduced early voting, decreased the availability of absentee ballots, and cut back on the minimum number of voting machines counties must have available – potentially causing the longer lines we saw at polling places that we saw in Arizona earlier this year. This voter suppression law is very similar to the one in Wisconsin that a former GOP staffer in the Badger State said was going to help Republicans win elections.
One of the reasons why the press has termed Kasich a “moderate” is because he simply much better behaved than Trump and Cruz. Unlike his rivals, Kasich isn’t angry and he campaigns with a sunny disposition. That is unusual in Republican circles these days since many of them are – like Ben Sasse – expecting America to “cease to exist.” However, one must judge Kasich by his actual policies rather than his personality.
Another Republican who has at times successfully passed himself as moderate due to a normal personality is current House Speaker Paul Ryan. Like Kasich, Ryan is well behaved and doesn’t scream into microphones or hurl deeply personal insults at President Obama, other prominent Democrats, Hispanics and women. This calm and reassuring demeanor has fooled many in the national press to believe that Ryan is some kind of responsible leader who is serious about the governance of the U.S.
Like Kasich, Ryan must be judged by the content of the policies he has pursued as House Budget Committee Chairman and Speaker. Ryan’s signature policy since 2011 has been his extreme and regressive budget proposal that has become the centerpiece of GOP economic policies.
The Ryan budget would end the Medicare guarantee to senior citizens and convert it into a voucher program. It would bring back pre-existing condition clauses and require senior citizens to purchase private health insurance policies. Needless to say, this would significantly increase the amount of out of pocket medical expenses paid by senior citizens. The Republicans in Congress have yet to explain to senior citizens how they could afford comprehensive health insurance with the return of pre-existing condition clauses.
This regressive budget plan would completely repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it. Total repeal of the ACA would cancel approximately 20 million insurance policies and double the uninsured rate in America.
Approximately 69% of the budget cuts in the Ryan budget come from programs for the poor. These cuts come in the following categories: Medicaid; health care; food assistance; college grants; school lunches, and the EITC;. At the same time this budget reduces the top income tax rate for individuals from 39.6% to 25% and also reduces the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.
One of Paul Ryan’s most loyal supporters is Representative Jeff Fortenberry – who is widely (and falsely) considered to be a moderate Republican. Mr. Fortenberry has voted for the Ryan budget approximately five times, supported the 2013 government shutdown and voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security last year when terrorists were threatening to attack the Mall of America in Minneapolis.
Despite this extreme voting record, Fortenberry is considered by some to be a moderate because he is a nice guy and on rare occasions does buck the GOP Party line. (Fortenberry still votes with the GOP 90% of the time.) Shortly before the 2013 government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion and 100,000 jobs, the Lincoln Journal Star editorial page made the mistake of terming Fortenberry a “compassionate conservative” and found his alleged independence from the more extreme elements of the GOP to be “inspiring.”
Republicans like Kasich, Ryan and Fortenberry must be judged by their actual policy proposals – not their personalities. The press must cease to act as theater critics and actually dig deep into their plans. I realize this is hard work but the American people deserve the truth. As prominent political scientist Norm Ornstein wrote: “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
As Democrats we must get the message out that we are the moderate and responsible party that can be trusted to responsibly govern the country. This is because the stakes in 2016 couldn’t be much higher. If we can elect a Democratic President, the country will continue to prosper and have a responsible national security policy. On the other hand, if the GOP were to win the election, the deficits would explode, the economy would crash and we would back to war in the Middle East. Failure is not an option. We must win and we will win!