The year was 1994. A Democratic president had been in the White House for two years. The Democrats controlled the Senate and the House of Representatives. House Republicans issued a document detailing the actions they would take if they gained control of the House. Republicans were projected to win big. A midterm election was held.
A red wave then swept the country. The Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress. A Republican revolution was proclaimed. The Democratic president was prevented from implementing his liberal agenda. The Republican faithful were ecstatic. The Democratic president had to work with Republicans in Congress. And nothing of substance happened that had any real effect on federal spending, the size and scope of government, or the welfare/warfare state.
In 2022, we experienced a Republican déjà vu. A Democratic president had been in the White House for two years. The Democrats controlled the Senate and the House of Representatives. House Republicans issued a document detailing the actions they would take if they gained control of the House. Republicans were projected to win big. A midterm election was held.
But then the red wave that all the conservative pundits had predicted never occurred. What control the Republicans gained was limited to the House. There was no Republican revolution. And regardless of the outcome, President Biden can freely wield the veto pen. But even with veto-proof Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress — Republicans being Republicans — nothing of substance would happen that would have had any real effect on federal spending, the size and scope of government, or the welfare/warfare state.
Since the 1950s, the Republicans have controlled just the House, just the presidency, both houses of Congress but not the presidency, just the Senate with a Republican president, just the house with a Republican president, and both houses of Congress with a Republican president.
Before the Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate in 1994, the last time Republicans controlled the House was the 83rd Congress of 1953–1955 — the first two years of the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. The last time Republicans controlled the Senate was during the first six years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency (1981–1987). Republican control of the House and Senate that was obtained in 1994 continued for six more years through the end of President Bill Clinton’s second term. Then the unthinkable happened. In the election of 2000, Republicans held on to their majorities in the House and Senate, and a Republican, George W. Bush, was elected president. Republicans had absolute control of the government for over four years during Bush’s presidency. They held their initial slim majority until May of 2001 when Republican senator Jim Jeffords switched from Republican to Independent. Republicans regained control of the Senate in the 2002 midterm election and then remained in control of both houses of Congress until their defeat in the 2006 midterm election. Following four years of Democratic control of the Congress, Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 midterm election. Four years later, they regained control of the Senate as well. This Republican control of the Congress lasted four years —from the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency through the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency. During the last two years of Trump’s presidency, Republicans held a slim majority in the Senate after losing 41 seats in the House in 2018.
Since the 1950s, there have been three Republican presidents who had a Democratic-controlled Congress throughout their presidency: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush. There have been three Republican presidents who had a Democratic-controlled Congress for at least two years of their presidency: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. There have been two Republican presidents who had a Republican majority in just the Senate for at least two years of their presidency: Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. And there have been three Republican presidents who had a Republican-controlled Congress for at least two years of their presidency: Dwight D. Eisenhower, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.
If history is any indication, Americans have good reason to be skeptical of Republican claims of what they will do once they regain control of the government. Whether they control only one chamber of Congress or have a Republican trifecta, the result is always the same: the federal budget, the national debt, and government control over the economy, society, and the individual increase while the welfare/warfare state continues unabated.
The Republican agenda
Back in 1994, it was the Republican Contract with America. In 2022, it was the Republican Commitment to America. The “Commitment to America represents a new direction and better approach that will get our nation back on track.” It revolved around four commitments:
- Because Americans are workers and builders, we commit to remove government-imposed obstacles to their success. Hardworking taxpayers should be valued, not punished.
- Because no American should live in fear, we commit to reverse soft-on-crime policies that have caused violence in our communities. Public safety is a necessity, not a privilege.
- Because Americans are learners and dreamers, we commit to advance excellence in education and respect for dedicated parents and teachers. Our future depends on it.
- And because Americans deserve fairness and real accountability, we commit to make Washington finally serve the needs of the people. We can no longer afford business as usual.
These commitments have resulted in four GOP slogans: “Starting Day One, we will work to deliver an economy that’s strong, a nation that’s safe, a future that’s built on freedom, and a government that’s accountable.”
Now, I don’t know of any American who wouldn’t want a strong economy, a safe nation, a future built on freedom, and an accountable government, so perhaps we should see what details the Republicans actually provide about each of these things. In their one-page fact sheet about their Commitment to America, the Republicans have three bullet points, with explanations, under each of their slogans. Although the points all differ, they might as well say: nationalism, socialism, and militarism.
Under “An Economy that’s Strong,” Republicans talk about curbing wasteful government spending that raises prices and grows the national debt. This is laughable, considering that the debt increased by almost $4 trillion over the course of Donald Trump’s three “pre-pandemic” years as president — years where the Republicans controlled the Senate the whole time and the House for two out of the three years. There is no mention of the role of the Federal Reserve in causing inflation. America is to be made “energy independent,” supply chains are to be moved away from China, and U.S. manufacturing is to be expanded. There is no mention of the national industrial policy that it will take to do these things.
Under “A Nation That’s Safe,” Republicans repeat their “secure the border” mantra. One reason for this is to prevent “trafficking by cartels.” Ending the war on drugs that is the cause of drug trafficking is not part of their agenda. All forms of illicit fentanyl are to be permanently criminalized, as if they were not already. Republicans “support 200,000 more police officers through recruiting bonuses and oppose all efforts to defund the police.” This is all well and good, but police officers are recruited and funded by states, counties, cities, and towns. The federal government is not authorized by the Constitution to have anything to do with local law enforcement. In order to defend America’s national security, Republicans want to “support our troops, invest in an efficient, effective military, establish a Select Committee on China, and exercise peace through strength with our allies to counter increasing global threats.” What this actually means, of course, is that Republicans want to support overseas military exercises and operations by U.S. troops in places where they have no business going, increase the military budget, make China a boogeyman, and build up the military to counter global threats of our own making.
Under “A Future that’s Built on Freedom,” Republicans want to “recover lost learning from school closures” and “expand parental choice so over a million more students can receive the education their parents know is best.” (I wonder if this includes school closures during the “pandemic” by Republicans at the state and local levels?) Republicans used to call for the elimination of the federal Department of Education. Now they want to expand federal involvement in education. Republicans also want to expand federal involvement in health care by personalizing care “to provide affordable options and better quality, delivered by trusted doctors and hospitals,” lowering prices “through transparency, choice, and competition,” investing in “lifesaving cures,” and improving “access to telemedicine.” Republicans don’t even bother to talk about repealing Obamacare anymore.
And finally, under “A Government that’s Accountable,” Republicans want to “preserve our constitutional freedoms” while they “save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare”—the two largest socialist programs that are not authorized by the Constitution. Republicans want to “safeguard the Second Amendment.” Yet, they have gone along with decades of federal gun-control legislation that make a mockery of the Second Amendment. Republicans want to “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” Instead of being content with the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and returning the abortion question to the states, where it belongs, Republicans want to use the power of the federal government to restrict abortion. It is laughable that Republicans want to “conduct rigorous oversight to rein in government abuse of power and corruption.”
There is nothing in the Republican agenda about abolishing the hundreds of unconstitutional programs and agencies of the federal government. There is nothing in the Republican agenda about laying off thousands of government bureaucrats that run these programs and work at these agencies. And there is nothing in the Republican agenda about rolling back the welfare state, the warfare state, the police state, the surveillance state, and the national-security state that oppresses the American peoples’ life, liberty, and property.
The real issues were nowhere to be found in the midterm election. One would think that since Republicans continually recite their conservative mantra — fidelity to the Constitution, federalism, limited government, fiscal conservatism, privatization, less government, capitalism, lower taxes, less regulation, the free market, free enterprise, and a strong national defense — they would focus on some of these issues to differentiate themselves from Democrats. But they can’t, and here is why.
Republicans believe that some Americans should be forced by the government to pay for the health care of other Americans.
Republicans support antidiscrimination laws that violate freedom of conscience and the natural rights of private property and free association.
Republicans believe that Americans should be locked in a cage for possessing substances that the government doesn’t approve of.
Republicans support an interventionist foreign policy.
Republicans believe that the U.S. military should police the world.
Republicans believe that the U.S. military should have bases and troops all over the world.
Republicans believe that the government should take money from Americans and give it to foreigners and their governments.
Republicans believe that the government should give students grants and loans.
Republicans believe that some Americans should receive a refund of tax money that they never paid in.
Republicans believe in saving the largest socialist program in the United States: Social Security — an intergenerational wealth-redistribution scheme.
Republicans believe that the government should take money from those who work and give it to those who don’t.
Republicans believe that the government should operate a rail service.
Republicans believe in socialized medicine via Medicare and Medicaid.
Republicans believe that the government should undertake space exploration.
Republicans believe that the government should provide breakfast and lunch for school children.
Republicans believe that the government should provide airport security.
Republicans support federal subsidies to certain occupations and sectors of society: agriculture, the arts, cultural organizations, scientific and medical researchers, and low-income renters.
Republicans believe that the federal government should have a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that Americans must submit to before they can purchase a gun.
Republicans believe that the federal government should make home loans, guarantee loans, give out housing vouchers, and have a Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Republicans believe that the federal government should have laws to prohibit or regulate gambling.
Republicans believe that some Americans should be forced by the government to pay for the education of other Americans and their children.
Democrats believe and support the exact same things. They just sometimes disagree with Republicans over how much should be spent on them.
The problem is a deep philosophical one. It is not just the Republican leadership, the Republican establishment, Republicans in name only (RINOs), liberal Republicans, progressive Republicans, moderate Republicans, or congressional Republicans who believe the above things. It is Republicans who created the TSA. It is conservative Republicans in state legislatures with Republican majorities who throw more money at public education every year. It is conservative Republicans who have continually expanded refundable tax credits and reauthorized unconstitutional federal programs. When was the last time a Republican in any state campaigning for any office ever publicly advocated that Medicare and Medicaid be abolished, federal background checks and unemployment compensation be eliminated, foreign aid and space exploration be ended, drug and anti-discrimination laws be repealed, and all U.S. troops be brought home after all overseas U.S. bases are closed?
Republicans seem to oppose only the most egregious cases of federal spending. They never seem to have a fundamental issue with most government programs or agencies. They only seem to get upset when the program or agency does something that violates some Republican talking point or conservative position.
Republicans seem to criticize the TSA only when the agency or one of its security screeners does something outrageous. Republicans seem to criticize federal funding of Planned Parenthood only because the organization performs abortions. Republicans seem to criticize NPR only when it manifests a liberal bias. Republicans seem to criticize the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) only when it funds pornographic art. Republicans seem to criticize Medicare only for waste, fraud, and abuse. Republicans seem to criticize the National Institutes of Health (NIH) only when it awards grants for ridiculous things. Republicans seem to criticize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only when it recommends that people wear face masks in certain situations.
The conclusion is inescapable. Although there are notable cultural differences between most Democrats and Republicans, there are no real political differences between most Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the fundamental issues of individual liberty, private property, peace and nonintervention, and limited government. Former Republican member of Congress and presidential candidate Ron Paul summarized it well: “One of the dirty secrets of American politics is that the establishment of both parties supports the corporatist welfare-warfare state and the fiat money system that makes it all possible. While they quibble over the details, the only real disagreement between the two parties is over which one is better able to run the economy, run the world, and run our personal lives.” Future of Freedom Foundation president Jacob Hornberger has pointed out that the Democrats and Republicans “both are just fighting to control the welfare-warfare-state regulated society that they both have foisted on the American people.” This is why Judge Andrew Napolitano maintains that there is really just one political party in America — the Big Government Party — with two wings that “believe that they can right any wrong, regulate any behavior, tax any event and interfere in any process, whether the Constitution authorizes their legislation or not.” And yet the Republicans say that the Republican party is “the party of the Constitution.”
This article was originally published in the February 2023 edition of Future of Freedom.