Thursday, December 15, 2011




It’s fashionable to say -- and the "Occupy" movement has made this a basic tenet -- that Republicans and Democrats are really alike beneath their skin, any apparent differences amounting to no more than a contrast between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

But Occupy and it adherents are dead wrong about that, even though it's a central part of the rationale that's let the populist movement spread from New York to several California cities and then around the world this fall.

The demonstrators in tents and sleeping bags had some things right, of course, including the fact that campaign finance is the root of many American political evils, and both Republicans and Democrats often dance to the tunes of their big donors.

But with the primary/caucus season starting in earnest, you'd have to be blind and deaf not to see huge differences between the two major parties. So the results of this year’s presidential and congressional races will decide huge policy issues.

The two biggest areas of difference just now are health care and the environment.

Republicans in the House of Representatives havesteadily attacked environmental protections of clean air and water since the moment they took control there last year. In this relatively short time, 161 votes have occurred on bills aiming to roll back those protections.

Environmental purists may have been grossly offended, even completely turned off, by President Obama’s nixing some new restrictions on smokestack emissions proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, but that doesn’t change the fact that Democrats have stymied myriad Republican attempts to roll back anti-smog, anti-acid rain regulations and restrictions on industrial waste running into rivers, lakes and oceans.

Had all those passed, America – and smog-prone California in particular – might soon come to look something like Communist-era Eastern Europe, where a pall of heavy pollution hung over almost every sizeable city and rivers reeked of oil and other pollutants.

One still-current Republican proposal would set overseers over the EPA and require cost considerations to trump health and science concerns whenever new rules are considered. When contemplating that one, it behooves voters to remember that every new California smog regulation has been fought by car companies claiming their sales would evaporate if the rule took effect. Constant freeway traffic jams are a pretty good demonstration of how wrong those claims have been.

If not for Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate, some analysts say, America would be returned to lax levels of environmental regulation not seen since the 1880s.

Give the GOP and its extremist Tea Party component the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, and such a turning back of the clock is possible. That’s because most Republicans today buy into “trickle down” economic theories that contend less regulation equals more jobs. This claim, and its companion contention that lower taxes mean more jobs, have never been proven in the 31 years since they became conservative dogma in 1980.

Then there’s health care, where every Republican candidate for President and virtually all the party’s congressional candidates swear they will immediately get rid of the health care policies they call “Obamacare.”

“The window for action comes and goes, so we need to be ready,” pronounced one analyst at the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute looking forward to the election aftermath.

So if your 24-year-old adult child is now covered by your health plan because that young person either can’t get or can’t afford one of his or her own, that could disappear if Republicans take control.

Republicans, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, want to scrap the requirement of the Obama program that every individual obtain some kind of health insurance before it takes effect in 2014 – even if it’s upheld by the GOP-dominated Supreme Court. They favor tax credits that consumers could use to shop around for health insurance in a new system not dominated by employer groups. Their approach would be completely different and far more laissez faire than what Democrats passed while they controlled both Congress and the White House.

It all adds up to a huge contrast, with Republicans pushing the concept of smaller government in every respect, from fewer regulations to allowing citizens to go without any health insurance. They believe this would make America a better place with fuller employment, while Democrats hold it could make America filthy and leave millions unprotected from disasters of many types, from earthquake and hurricane damage to health crises.

Which means it’s pure nonsense to say, as the “Occupy…” demonstrators have through the fall and early winter, that the election outcome doesn’t matter because both big parties have the same bottom line. They really don’t.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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