In one of his trenchant commentaries written about a month before the election, Future of Freedom Foundation president Jacob G. Hornberger asked the question, “Where Are Open Borders in the Presidential Race?” He then made these observations:
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, immigration is not a big burning issue in the presidential race. There is a simple reason for that: Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden believe in America’s system of immigration controls. Their only difference between them is over the enforcement measures that come with that system.
Trump and his Republican cohorts love to proclaim their support of “free enterprise” and “free markets.” Yet, free enterprise and free markets mean enterprise and markets that are free of government control and interference. A system of immigration controls is the opposite of free enterprise and free markets.
Biden and his Democrat cohorts love to proclaim how much they love the poor, needy, and disadvantaged. Yet, undocumented immigrants are among the poorest people in the world. They want to come to the U.S. to sustain and improve their lives by working for American employers who wish to hire them.
The fact is that Democrats love immigration controls as much as Republicans do.
Hornberger concluded, “Don’t hold your breath waiting for either Trump or Biden to endorse open borders. They, like their Republican and Democratic cohorts, are just too wedded to central planning and other aspects of socialism.” Even if one doesn’t share Hornberger’s enthusiasm for open borders, his conclusion about the similarities between the Republicans and Democrats can’t be denied.
But not only was immigration not a big issue in the 2020 election, there were a host of other important topics that were simply non-issues in the election.
On the national level, which is what we are concerned about here, voters in the fifty states choose members of the House of Representatives by district for two-year terms, two senators for six-year terms, and, by means of the Electoral College, a president every four years. In the November election, all 435 seats in the House were up for grabs. However, in the Senate, senators are divided into three classes with staggered terms. Thus, only one-third of the Senate seats can normally be contested at any election. In addition to the 33 Senate seats decided in November, there were also two special Senate elections that took place to fill vacancies resulting from the death of John McCain of Arizona in 2018 and the resignation of Johnny Isakson of Georgia in 2019.
Some independent and third-party candidates ran for the House, the Senate (in Alaska, the Senate candidate was an Independent supported by the Democratic Party), and the presidency (there were actually 36 candidates); but as has been the case since 1856, the contests were basically between the Democrats and the Republicans. Since World War II, the only notable member of Congress elected not as a Democrat or Republican was the Independent, Bernie Sanders. That means that 471 (435+33+2+1) Democrats and Republicans faced off in the 2020 election (472 if you separate the president and vice president, which appear together on the ballot). But aside from the fitness of Biden and the character of Trump, what were the issues that divided the two parties?
On the surface, it seems as though the Democrats and Republicans couldn’t be more different. Most conservatives think that the Democratic Party is the party of a bigger, more expensive, more intrusive government that is focused on civil rights, social justice, gun control, and income inequality and is weak on national defense. On the other hand, conservatives generally believe that the Republican Party is the party of the Constitution, limited government, federalism, individual freedom, private property, free markets, traditional values, free enterprise, and a strong national defense. Although the conservatives’ perception of the Democratic Party is accurate, their view of the Republican Party couldn’t be more wrong.
Here are some selections from the 2020 Democratic Party platform that give us a good indication of what Democrats stand for:
We must guarantee health care not as a privilege for some, but as a right for every single American. For a century, Democrats have fought to secure universal health care.
We must lead the world in taking on the climate crisis, not deny the science and accelerate the damage.
We must provide a world-class education in every ZIP code, to every child, because education is a critical public good.
Democrats believe in universal early childhood education, and affordable, high-quality child care.
Democrats will fight to raise wages for working people and improve job quality and security, including by raising the federal minimum wage so it reaches $15 an hour by 2026.
Democrats believe we need to be much more proactive and aggressive in rooting out discrimination in our employment system.
We will repair, modernize, and expand our highways, roads, bridges, and airports, including by installing 500,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles.
Democrats commit to providing Section 8 housing support for every eligible family, and will enact protections to keep landlords from discriminating against voucher recipients.
We will make sure the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.
Democrats will increase funding for food assistance programs, including SNAP, WIC, and school meals.
We will enact policies to make Social Security more progressive, including increasing benefits for all beneficiaries, meaningfully increasing minimum benefit payments, increasing benefits for long-duration beneficiaries, and protecting surviving spouses from benefit cuts.
We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion. We will repeal the Title X domestic gag rule and restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Echoing the 1994 Republican Contract with America, the Democratic Party proposed “a new social and economic contract with the American people” that affirms “housing is a right and not a privilege,” promises that “no one will be homeless or go hungry,” “raises wages and restores workers’ rights to organize, join a union, and collectively bargain,” and “supports working families and the middle class by securing equal pay for women and paid family leave for all.”
The Republican Party did not adopt a new platform in 2020. It instead chose to follow the same platform that it used in 2016. That platform is heavy on principle, but light on specific proposals like those found in the Democratic platform. For example:
We reaffirm the Constitution’s fundamental principles: limited government, separation of powers, individual liberty, and the rule of law.
We affirm that all legislation, regulation, and official actions must conform to the Constitution’s original meaning as understood at the time the language was adopted.
We affirm — as did the Declaration of Independence: that all are created equal, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In a free society, the primary role of government is to protect the God-given, inalienable rights of its citizens.
The Republican platform proposed to balance the budget, audit the Pentagon, ease the federal regulatory burden, establish a pro-growth tax code, and protect property rights, gun rights, and free speech. It criticized income redistribution, crony capitalism, corporate welfare, federal data collection, poverty programs, national education standards, government surveillance, and federal student loans.
But to those who are willing to dig a little deeper, the Republican platform also shows that there are some cracks in the façade of the image of the Republican Party:
We oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination.
All options should be considered to preserve Social Security.
We intend to save Medicare by modernizing it, empowering its participants, and putting it on a secure financial footing. We will preserve the promise of Medicaid as well.
We believe that individuals with preexisting conditions who maintain continuous coverage should be protected from discrimination.
And of course, if one actually looks at the legislation that is passed by Republicans in Congress and the programs that they reauthorize, it is evident that in all the things that the Republicans criticize in their platform they are just as guilty of as Democrats.
But, it is commonly said, Republicans are pro-life and Democrats are pro-choice. Indeed, the Republican Party platform does say,
Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.
The Democratic Party is extreme on abortion. Democrats’ almost limitless support for abortion, and their strident opposition to even the most basic restrictions on abortion, put them dramatically out of step with the American people.
Surely the abortion issue distinguishes Republicans from Democrats?
There are four things that show that Republicans are not as pro-life as they claim to be. First of all, when the recently deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a consistent supporter of abortion rights, was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in 1993, only three Senate Republicans voted against her confirmation. Second, the Supreme Court has been dominated by Republican appointments for half a century — since before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 — and yet the decision has never been overturned. Third, five of the six justices on the Court in 1973 who were appointed by Republican presidents were in the majority in the 7–2 Roe decision which held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. And fourth, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, receives hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds every year — thanks to the Republicans in Congress. When Planned Parenthood left the federal Title X family planning program in August 2019, it did so voluntarily, not because the federal government forced it to.
Social Security. Both Democrats and Republicans want to save Social Security so that future generations of the elderly can be supported by the young. Both parties uphold the lie that Social Security recipients are “entitled” to benefits because they “earned” them by paying into the system during their working years. Both parties believe that the government has the authority to manage a retirement and disability program and force Americans to “contribute” to it.
Health care. Although Republicans may rail against socialized medicine come election time,
both Democrats and Republicans fully support socialized medicine through Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP. Both parties believe in massive government intervention in the health-care and health-insurance industry. Both parties believe that some Americans should be forced to pay for the health care of other Americans.
The welfare state. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that the government should take money out of the pockets of Americans who “have” and redistribute it to other Americans who “have not” by means of WIC, TANF, Section 8 rent subsidies, SSI, food stamps, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Neither party believes that the poor, the elderly, the hungry, the sick, the disabled, and the disadvantaged can be taken care of under a free-enterprise system by individuals and organizations. Neither party believes that all charity should be private and voluntary.
The drug war. Although many Democrats now want marijuana to be legalized on the federal level, both Democrats and Republicans want to heavily tax and regulate marijuana in states where it has been legalized. And furthermore, both parties are firmly against the legalization of other drugs and fully support the federal war on drugs.
Gun control. Although Republicans talk about the Second Amendment, both parties believe that most federal gun laws, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), should be retained even though they infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
Job training. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that the government should have job-training programs instead of their being privately run and funded.
Foreign aid. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that the government should take money out of the pockets of American taxpayers and put it in the hands of foreign governments and organizations in the form of foreign aid. Neither party believes that the decision to give money to foreigners should be an individual one, and that no country should receive foreign aid from the U.S. government in any amount, at any time, for any reason.
Taxes. Although they disagree on tax rates and the amount, nature, and recipients of tax deductions and credits, both Democrats and Republicans believe that the government is entitled to a portion of every American’s income through taxation. Both parties accept a progressive income-tax system in which “the rich” pay their “fair share” of taxes by paying a higher percentage of their income to the government than “the poor” or by forgoing certain deductions, exemptions, and credits that the government grants to them. Both parties maintain that the government should have refundable tax credits so that “the poor” can get a refund of taxes that were never withheld from their paychecks.
The TSA. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that the federal government should have a TSA to provide security for private businesses such as the airlines instead of there being security services provided by the airlines or sought on the free market.
Education. Both Democrats and Republicans think that the government should take money from some Americans to educate the children of other Americans in public schools or by means of educational vouchers. Neither party believes that education should be entirely left up to the states and that the federal government should have absolutely nothing to do with it.
The warfare state. Both Democrats and Republicans support huge military budgets, accept millions in donations from defense contractors, and have no problem with defense spending used for offense.
Federal grants. Although they may disagree on the amount, nature, and recipients of federal grants, both Democrats and Republicans have no philosophical objection to the government’s taking money out of the pockets of American taxpayers and using it to give out grants for scientific and medical research or art and culture. Neither party believes that all research, art, and culture should be privately funded and conducted.
Foreign policy. Both Democrats and Republicans say that the United States should have an interventionist foreign policy and police the world. Both parties are in favor of the United States’ continuing its military alliances with many countries around the world and coming to their defense if deemed necessary.
The American empire. Although they may differ on troop levels and the countries involved, both Democrats and Republicans believe that the United States should maintain an empire of troops and bases around the world.
Farm subsidies. Both Democrats and Republicans think that agriculture should be treated different from all other industries. Both parties believe that farmers should be provided a safety net and subsidized with money taken from non-farmers. Neither party believes that if a farmer can’t make a profit without government assistance, then he should sell his farm and find another line of work.
Unemployment benefits. Both Democrats and Republicans think that the government should take money from those who work and transfer it to those who don’t by means of unemployment benefits. Neither party believes that unemployment insurance should be private and that government has no business paying people for not working.
Space exploration. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that it is a legitimate purpose of government to fund and undertake space exploration and research instead of its all being privately funded and conducted.
Minimum wage. Although they may disagree on the proper figure, both Democrats and Republicans say that it is legitimate for the government to establish a minimum wage and overtime-pay rules. Neither party believes that wages and benefits should be negotiated between employers and employees on an individual or group basis without any government involvement whatsoever.
Discrimination. Although they may differ on whether discrimination on the basis of sex should include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or “gender identity,” Democrats and Republicans are firmly committed to the federal government’s having an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and an assortment of anti-discrimination laws that violate the rights of private property, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, free enterprise, freedom of contract, and freedom of thought. Neither party believes in the absolute right of business owners to refuse service to anyone for any reason or property owners to refuse to sell, rent, or lease to anyone on any basis.
Organ sales. Both Democrats and Republicans oppose any American’s having the individual freedom to sell — while alive or dead — one of his body organs to the highest bidder. Both parties oppose free enterprise in the sale of voluntarily offered body organs. Neither party believes that because your body is your own, you should be able to do whatever you want with all or part of it.
The role of government. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that the government should interfere with, regulate, or control peaceful activity and punish individuals and businesses for engaging in entirely peaceful, voluntary, and consensual actions that do not aggress against the person or property of others. Neither party believes that the actions of the government should be strictly limited to reasonable defense, judicial, and policing activities. Both parties confirm what Voltaire said about government hundreds of years ago: “The art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.”
The Constitution. Although Republicans talk more about the Constitution, both Democrats and Republicans pay lip service to, and make a mockery of, the Constitution. How else do we account for the fact that the overwhelming majority of what the federal government does is not authorized by the Constitution?
So instead of making any of those things issues in the 2020 election, Democrats and Republicans squabbled over whether someone should be nominated to the Supreme Court so close to an election, whether science supports climate change, whether Russia interfered in the last election, how many jobs each party would create, how best to reduce carbon emissions, whether the government should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves, and what the government should do about income inequality and the coronavirus.
This article was originally published in the January 2021 edition of Future of Freedom.
The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government. Visit https://www.fff.org
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