I have found myself wondering why some people often vote against their best interest. This piqued my interest recently when someone on Facebook was explaining why he voted for Mitt Romney, despite the fact that a Romney presidency would have significantly harmed his livelihood.
In the case of college students, I imagine some of them just didn’t know that one of the candidates was proposing to cut education spending significantly. Another possibility is that many college students still believe everything their parents told them.
But what about the populations that have been attacked relentlessly by the Republican establishment as scapegoats? I’m thinking mostly right now of women and the poor.
As Mitt Romney’s now famous 47 percent comments show, the Republican Party views the poorest Americans as parasites that want to use the government to steal the hard-earned money of the hard-working white establishment. They view women seeking abortions as harlots, and if their pregnancy was the result of rape, the woman is blamed first.
In these cases, I think the insulted parties simply don’t believe that they are the ones being offended. I have seen many poor people complain about the hordes of ingrates that are draining our government without realizing that their food stamps and Medicaid make them part of that hoard. I have heard women complain about other women wanting abortions just because they were raped, and being tramps that they had it coming. What shocks me the most is that oftentimes the women complaining are women that I know have received an abortion themselves in the past.
The fact of the matter is that the vilified “moochers” and “harlots” that Republicans blame for all of America’s problems does not think of themselves as moochers and harlots. The poor have an in-depth understanding of their own financial situation and understand that without government assistance in the form of food stamps, Pell Grants, Medicaid and other similar programs, they would likely be destitute.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, roughly 35 percent of women in the United States will have an abortion by the time they turn 45. Yet some women seem to separate themselves from that population and turn others into a scapegoat. Realistically, if this statistic is evenly distributed throughout the population, between any woman and her best friend, it is likely that at least one of them will have or has had an abortion. To women out there opposed to abortion rights, remember that even if you are not part of the 35 percent who may need an abortion at some point, it is likely that between your mother, sisters or daughters, some of you will. Women having abortions are not a deviant subset of our population, but are representative of people of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses.
If the Republican Party wants to fight against government dependence and decrease instances of abortion, they certainly are not going about it the right way. By proposing to cut social safety net programs, they only drum up support among their most conservative members by threatening to force the poorest Americans to starve to death. Trying to outlaw abortion, they merely drive some women to illegal establishments to obtain abortions while forcing other women to carry an embryo that is unwanted to term.
There are solutions to these problems that the Republican establishment could embrace which are both humane and are consistent with social and fiscal conservatism. For the problem of government dependence, the solution is not to cut, but to invest.
Specifically, the government must invest in the education of every American by increasing funding to higher education. The Republican Party could push for a requirement that any able-bodied individual receiving public assistance must be: currently working, currently looking for work (this option can only be used for one year) or re-training (This could be at a four -year college, a community college, a trade school, or even an apprenticeship). The government will foot the bill for the tuition for the individual in whole.
As long as an individual is meeting one of those three requirements, the government can provide them with any of the public assistance for which they might qualify. The poor should not have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from in a country like America, but without education, they may end up requiring government assistance for years. This idea is socially conservative because it encourages individuals to be productive members of society. It is also fiscally conservative because the investment in the education of millions of Americans will pay dividends for the government in the future when they earn enough to pay income taxes instead of receiving federal benefits. This also strongly encourages investment and economic growth, which will help to stimulate the economy and lower the federal deficit.
For the problem of abortions, there is an even simpler solution. Approximately half of all abortions are a result of unplanned pregnancies. This means that with more funding to family planning and better education about contraceptives, up to half of all abortions could be avoided. One study by Washington University followed 9,000 women in St. Louis who were all offered free birth control of any kind. When there was no cost to them, they flocked towards the most effective means of birth control (mostly implants or IUDs). As a result, abortion rates and teen birth rates were cut in half.
Offering free contraceptives of any kind to all women is socially conservative because it lowers abortion rates. It is also fiscally conservative since it would reduce the number of abortions and births for which the taxpayer foots the bill. It also reduces the rates of teen pregnancy, a problem that also can cost the taxpayer a small fortune.
It is possible to be a conservative and not starve the poor and demonize women. In fact, some of the most successful Republicans in history have been “compassionate conservatives” who fought for improving the lives of all Americans in a sensible manner. Teddy Roosevelt fought for the national forests that all Americans now enjoy, Eisenhower built the U.S. highway system that has served as one of the foundations of the entire American economy and Reagan provided amnesty for millions of immigrants, allowing them to embrace the American Dream.
There is room in the national debate for a new kind of common sense conservatism to replace the “common sense conservatism” of the likes of Sarah Palin. This is a common sense conservatism that has been absent for at least four years now. It is time for an end to the shrill extremism of the Tea Party, and it is time to look at the numbers and statistics and make reasonable choices about the future of our country.