National Party News

The difference between Republicans and Democrats


“The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.” With that philosophical premise, former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts (R) isolated the differences between members of the two political parties in the clearest manner I’ve ever heard, and the implications of his statement are considerable, as it explains many Republican policies for at least a generation.

{mosads}Watts made the remarks in Pella, Iowa, while stumping for Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) presidential bid prior to the Iowa caucuses. Watts drew the nation’s attention first as the quarterback who led the Oklahoma Sooners to consecutive Orange Bowl victories over Florida State in 1979 and 1980. He was subsequently ordained as a Baptist minister, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Oklahoma from 1995 to 2002.

Torrential rain fell outside as Watts addressed a small but supportive audience of maybe a dozen at Smokey Row Coffee Co. under an American flag. It was tough to determine who was there to see Watts, or who had just come for lunch. Watts was accompanied by nearly as many Paul staffers, volunteers and Iowa Republican operatives as there were people there to hear him speak.

Watts was answering a question regarding his position on the Second Amendment when he stated Republicans believe that people are fundamentally bad and Democrats believe the opposite: that they are good.

“We are born backwards into this world,” he said. “We are born bad … no one has to teach a child how to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that … we teach them how to be good. We become good by being reborn — born again … Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”

He continued: “So take the theater shootings in Lafayette [La.] — Republicans know that this was a bad man, doing a bad thing. Democrats will look for other causes — that the man was basically good, but that it was the guns, society or some other place where the blame lies and then they will want to control the guns, or something else — not the man. We don’t need to look anywhere else for the blame. It’s the man.”

While I didn’t hear Watts use the term “sinner” specifically, men being born “bad” seems an equivalence. As the Christian faith says we are all born sinners, and therefore “bad,” no wonder welfare recipients are often portrayed by many Republicans as irresponsible, lazy and exploiting the system. Continuing Watts’s logic, while Democrats would see welfare recipients as good people who have fallen on hard times, Republicans see them at bad people — sinners — whose personal failings and lack of faith put them in the bad position. No wonder those who share Watts’s views want to cut government programs, and let the church handle relief, as it is only with the guidance of the church that they can become “good,” while no amount of government support can possibly do that.

With this simple logic — that all behavior not in the best interest of society is the product of “bad” actors with no influence by external social or environmental factors — this philosophy effectively calls for the end to all of the social sciences. Poverty doesn’t influence crime rates, inequality isn’t an issue, institutional and structural violence isn’t something to take seriously, all for example. That is, if we all become good — born again — everything will be fine. Research isn’t needed. Facts aren’t needed. All one needs is the “right” ideology to solve all of the world’s problems.

Play this logic out with every major policy issue that separates Republicans and Democrats, from immigration to market regulation, gun control, climate change, foreign policy — you name it — and there are significant implications which illustrates why the parties are on such different paths. A bipartisan solution to a problem is impossible if the root causes of the problem are seen as fundamentally different at this basic philosophical level.

Do all of the Republican candidates believe this? That people are inherently bad? Since all are declared Christians, and the faith requires one to see all as sinners, maybe so. And if not explicitly, perhaps implicitly or subconsciously. Many Republican policies back to President Reagan certainly suggest so, and maybe Watts’s generalization about the differences between Republicans and Democrats is spot on.

If so, our political future is grim.

Leonard covered the 2008 and 2012 Iowa caucuses for KNIA/KRLS Radio in Knoxville and Pella, Iowa. He is an anthropologist and author of Yellow Cab.

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