Papastefan: Redefine or Realign


Grant Papastefan, Columnist

If you ask a Republican what they stand for, they’ll probably tell you something like: “limited government, states’ rights and opportunity for hard-working Americans to improve their socioeconomic conditions.” If you ask a Democrat what they stand for, you’ll likely hear something like: “an even playing field, support for those less fortunate and environmental sustainability.”

In theory, both of these ideological stances are valid and do not have to be mutually exclusive. The problem with our political system and the reason our political arena has become so tense and stratified is not because our parties differ ideologically, but because they put immense effort into defining themselves — and defining each other — in very inaccurate ways. Until we stop misidentifying what we stand for and start holding our politicians accountable for doing the same, there will be no ease to the political tensions that have rendered our government effectively useless.

Last week, at the first College Republicans meeting of the year, everyone was asked to share why they are a Republican. Nearly everyone in the room said some variation of “I believe in free markets and limited government.” There’s a lot of merit behind free markets and limited government, but they are not “Republican” values. Many Republicans who say they support these things will defend our wars in the Middle East, cite religious freedom as a reason for their opposition to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage or oppose the ruling because they believe it’s a state-by-state issue. If you say you’re a Republican because you support limited government, how could you also say it is the government’s right to define who is allowed to get married, gay, straight or otherwise? How could a person who wants to reduce the size and scope of our government support expanding our national defense when it accounts for more than one-fifth of our massive annual budget? There are many reasons to support a strong national defense, but support for limited government is one of the only justifications that directly conflicts with it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may hear a Democrat say they support equal opportunity, fair taxes and aid for the less fortunate. These are all beautiful ideas, but, to bring it back to the Middle East, how can someone in favor of promoting human rights and equal opportunity condemn U.S. military involvement in the Middle East against radical groups like ISIS, which promotes sex slavery and rape? Well, that’s easy: Like the Republican party, the Democratic party doesn’t stand for equal rights and opportunities; they just stand for what they believe in, which is often just what wins elections. In some cases that is equal opportunity, but in other cases it fails to address human rights altogether. Obviously Democrats don’t think it is OK for thousands of peaceful men, women and children to be grossly mistreated, but with politicians avoiding the true issues and instead focusing on partisan rhetoric to entice voters, and voters blindingly submitting to political hate, conversations about important topics like this are at first avoided, and then forgotten altogether.

It is beyond time for us to reconsider our political system. In a world where just 40 percent of registered voters (22 percent for unregistered) know which party holds the House majority, elections are increasingly determined by which candidate can make their opponent seem more evil, and that’s the evil in and of itself.

The future of our nation is not a question of Republican or Democrat, but rather of gridlock or change. For politicians and voters alike, it’s time to redefine or realign.

Grant Papastefan is a Bienen freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.