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7 Things I Learned From The Sept. 7 Republican Debate

Judge H. Lee Sarokin Retired in 1996 after 17 years on the federal bench Posted: 9/12/11 06:13 PM ET

1. Republicans profess to be pro-life but apparently love the death penalty.

In a chilling moment reminiscent of the Romans throwing the Christians to the lions, the audience at the first debate erupted into cheers over a question to Gov. Rick Perry (not an answer) reciting the unusually high number of death penalty executions that had taken place in Texas during his tenure. Reconciling opposition to abortion and roaring support for the death penalty apparently poses no problem and no inconsistency. And what does it say about a political party when mention of the death penalty gets the greatest applause of the evening?

2. Republicans want the federal government to be smaller.

They want the federal government to do less, but strangely complain about the president not doing more. Here again they fail to recognize any inconsistency or feel any irony in placing these divergent thoughts side by side. Any active move by the president to improve the economy represents an unwanted and unwarranted government intrusion, but all failures of the economy to progress are the fault of the president.

3. They want to reduce taxes.

Since they acknowledge and complain that roughly half the country pays no taxes, this policy is meant to favor the rich over the middle and poorer classes. For instance, they want to reduce or eliminate capital gains taxes “so that it stimulates the economy,” but I am not certain how that happens. Most purchases of stock do not arise from initial or subsequent offerings from companies, but rather from one stockholder purchasing from another. When one buys a stock in the market, the purchase is not from the company but merely another person who owns that stock. So the profit on the sale of that stock does not inure to the benefit of that company, nor does reducing the capital gains tax on that profit. True, reducing the capital gains tax gives the seller more money to spend, but that hardly can be viewed as conferring any capital investment in the company issuing the stock.

4. They want to reduce or eliminate “entitlements.”

What affects the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, the sick, the homeless is on the table. What affects the rich is not. Common sense suggests that reducing spending combined with increasing revenues will reduce the deficit. Spend less and take in more — a no-brainer. But the Republicans (committed to the Norquist No-Tax Pledge) insist that tax increases and even the elimination of subsidies and deductions are off the table. Teacher salaries may come and go, but oil subsidies shall live forever. Why does the word “entitlements” only refer to what the poor and the middle class receive? Why aren’t the thousands of tax loopholes that have become ingrained in our system labeled “entitlements”? Deductions, subsidies, depletion allowances, tax shelters, even the tax rates themselves are just as much “entitlements” as unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicare. I would guess that all the benefits and deductions that corporate America receives from our tax system exceed what working America receives in the so-called “entitlements.”

5. They oppose socialism and distribution of the wealth.

Efforts to help the sick, the elderly, the homeless and the unemployed are all dubbed forms of “socialism” or “redistribution of wealth.” The answer is, “We will do it without the government making us do it,” or, “We have a right to make our own charitable decisions.” But we know that is absolute nonsense. Despite the incredibly charitable nature of this country, and even coupled with government assistance, many are still without. Poverty is at an all-time high. Withdraw government support and matters will be even worse. Call the unemployed autoworkers and others who spent 30 years on the job “freeloaders” all you want, but they and their families will not survive without government help.

6. They want less government regulation.

Here again they insist that left alone, industries will regulate themselves — that is, if you totally want to ignore history. The self-regulators (“the job creators”) brought us 12-year-olds employed in unsafe sweatshops; cigarettes without warnings; dangerous drugs; adulterated food; pollution of our streams, rivers, oceans and air; discrimination based on race and gender; shoddy construction; sales of real estate under water and worthless stocks; lead-based toys; dangerous appliances; and rising health care costs and millions without care or coverage. Yes, what they yearn for are the good old days when they could forget those rules that protected the consumer and the public and snake oil would again become the country’s leading product. Sure, regulations can be a nuisance and a substantial cost, but the idea that the free market would police itself and do the right thing absent government supervision is a fantasy for the future and a lie about the past. One need look no further than the bundling of subprime mortgages to know what can happen when banks and brokers are left to their own devices and standards.

7. They want to defeat President Obama.

I am willing to concede that there is tremendous waste and bloat in the federal government — many unnecessary employees and projects — but call me crazy: I do not think that the solution to mass unemployment during a recession is to lay off tens of thousands of federal workers and have them join the lines of the unemployed. Nor do I think that the intractable fight to let the very rich retain the utmost in income somehow infuses the economy with added strength. The ability to buy one more priceless painting does not result in higher employment. I yearn and plead for someone to convince me that these conservative policies fixed in stone are good for the country. Until then, I remain convinced that the constant obstructionism leading to the defeat of President Obama and the election of a Republican president is the only true goal of the Republicans, and the dire effect of these policies upon the nation is merely viewed as necessary collateral damage to winning the White House. On the anniversary of 9/11, one would hope that helping the country was more important than winning an election.

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