Frank Bruni: Democrats are the new Republicans


Frank Bruni is a columnist for The New York Times.


By Frank Bruni
The New York Times

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Family values. How long have we been subjected to that subjective phrase, championed by Republicans who equated it with heterosexuality, fecundity and Christian piety – and who appointed themselves the custodians of those?

Well, they lost any remaining claim to that mantle by embracing Donald Trump and then Roy Moore. Neither won the support of all Republicans, but both won the backing or complicity of enough of them to confirm just how hollow and hypocritical the party’s attachment to conservative morality always was. Quote the Bible. Denounce abortion. Congratulations: You’re upholding family values! No questions asked about the number of your marriages, the extent of your infidelities or the scope of your sexual predation.

Fiscal responsibility. How loudly have Republicans harangued us about that? It’s a worthy harangue – or at least it would be if there were an iota of integrity and consistency behind it.

But Republicans are poised to enact a sweeping overhaul of the tax code that will add nearly $1.5 trillion to federal deficits over the next decade. In all the news coverage of their need to finesse the math so that they don’t exceed that amount, the fact that they’re plunging the country so much deeper into the red in the first place almost gets lost.

This, mind you, is the same political party that fetishized balanced budgets and browbeat Democrats about being the foolishly, fatally profligate ones. Republicans’ actions routinely contradicted their words, and their tax reform is a contradiction on steroids. Where’s the fiscal responsibility in legislation with such budgetary hocus-pocus as the expiration of individual rate cuts that the bill’s authors fully expect other lawmakers to preserve down the road?

What pretty lies Republicans tell, most of all about themselves. And what a gorgeous opportunity they have given Democrats to steal that bogus rhetoric right out from under them.

Try this on for size: Democrats are the party of family values because they promote the creation of more families. They did precisely that with their advocacy of marriage equality, which didn’t tug the country away from convention but toward it, by encouraging gay and lesbian Americans to live in the sorts of arrangements that conservatives in fact extol.

Democrats also want to give families the flexibility and security that help keep them afloat and maybe intact. That’s what making the workforce more hospitable to women and increasing the number of Americans with health insurance do. And Republicans lag behind Democrats on both fronts.

Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility because they don’t pretend that they can afford grand government commitments – whether distant wars or domestic programs – without collecting the revenue for them.

Democrats are the party of patriotism, because they’re doing something infinitely more urgent and substantive than berating football players who kneel during the national anthem. They’re recognizing that a hostile foreign power tried to change the course of an American presidential election. They’re pressing for a full accounting of that. They’re looking for fixes, so that we can know with confidence that we control our own destiny going forward. The president, meanwhile, plays down the threat, and Republicans prop him up.

Democrats are the party of national security. They don’t taunt and get into Twitter wars with the rulers of countries that just might send nuclear warheads our way. They don’t alienate longtime allies by flashing contradictory signals about their commitment to NATO. The leader of the Republican Party does all of that and more, denying the GOP any pretense to stewardship of a stable world order.

Democrats are the law-and-order party. While many Republicans and their media mouthpiece, Fox News, labor to delegitimize the FBI and thus inoculate Trump, Democrats put faith in prosecutors, agents and the system.

Democrats are the party of decency and modesty. None of their highest leaders uses the public arena to bully private citizens in the way that the Republican president does. None advances his or her financial interests as brazenly or brags as extravagantly.

Democrats are the party of tradition, if it’s interpreted – and it should be – to mean a news media that operates without fear of government interference, an internet to which access isn’t tiered, judicial appointees who have a modicum of fluency in trial law.

Under Trump’s thumb and spell, the Republican Party is watching the pillars of its brand crumble. Democrats should grab hold of and appropriate them. And they’re starting to, fitfully and imperfectly. Jettisoning Al Franken as the Republican National Committee reteamed with Moore was part of that effort.

Who among us doesn’t care about family values, defined justly and embraced honestly? Who doesn’t see the good in patriotism, tradition and decency? They’re neither hokey words nor musty concepts, and that’s why Republicans have been using (and misusing) them. But in the age of Trump, they constitute a language that Democrats can more credibly speak.