Rant: Political Body Snatchers

How can you tell the evil party from the stupid party?


As Americans innocently continue reporting to polling places to split the difference between the nation's two political parties, the parties themselves are enacting another remake of Disney's Cartesian teen comedy Freaky Friday. The bodies of Republicans and Democrats, repellent husks even under the best circumstances, now host the minds, spirits, and vices of their putative opposite numbers. The evil party and the stupid party have switched roles.

Even if you never put much stock in the parties' self-definitions, the spectacle of fiscally hawkish Democrats railing against free-spending Republicans is jarring. The GOP, with control of two out of the three federal branches, has grabbed for itself the choicer role (the mom, to continue the uncanny Freaky Friday parallel).

Barred from the purse strings that they're sure they must still control back in the regular world, the Democrats are left to enact angst-filled adolescent tantrums. A recent report from Brian M. Riedl at the ordinarily pro-GOP Heritage Foundation explains how the special effects were done:

In two years of Republican stewardship, federal spending has increased by $296 billion. Of that figure only 45 percent has been related to war and counterterrorism. The remaining 55 percent has been taken up with such traditional GOP faves as unemployment (spending up 85 percent since 2001), education (up 65 percent), and general government costs (up 63 percent, largely thanks to federal bailouts of state governments). Critics are still debating how an $11 billion expansion of the No Child Left Behind program, tariffs to protect domestic steel and textile industries, or corn and cotton subsidies carry on the legacy of Ronald Reagan, or even Wendell Willkie, but audiences are delighted.

Well, some audiences anyway. Bereft of a good issue, the Democrats can only snipe at such largess. The dozen or so Democratic presidential hopefuls make fast work of President Bush's fiscal "irresponsibility." (Fiscal conservatism occurs naturally when you're running against tax cuts and a recovering economy.)

Sometimes more extreme measures are called for. When the Republican Senate, led by man of science Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), moved to beggar future generations with a potentially ruinous expansion of Medicare's prescription drug benefit, it was left to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to drag his crapulous girth onto the Senate floor for an unsuccessful filibuster. For the sake of form, Kennedy complained that the Medicare plan was too conservative, but the sight of Kennedy fighting the kind of benefit he'd devoted his entire career to creating left Americans in stitches.

Politics may not end at the water's edge, but they do seem to get flipped around. In foreign policy, we'd ordinarily expect to find GOP hawks standing up for America's interests, while dithering Democrats lay waste their talents with Wilsonian skylarking. But circumstances have changed. As traditionally conservative arguments for the invasion of Iraq—threats to national security, prevention of mega-terrorism, protection against expansionist rogues, etc.—dry up, the war's Republican defenders increasingly fall back on the very gushiest of neoliberal wishes about helping unfortunate foreigners get a hand up (and a handout).

In turn, the Democrats, who less than three years ago were willing to follow Al Gore's crusade in support of America's "moral interests" to the ends of the earth, are left griping that the toppling of the age's bloodiest dictator was insufficiently Wilsonian. Or too Wilsonian. Or something like that.

Perhaps we're comparing this situation to the wrong movie. Maybe the real culprits are body snatchers who have flooded the capital with Republican and Democrat pods. Or maybe Face/Off is the real analog. One way or another, we'll get to the bottom of this postmodern switcheroo.

As of this writing, the anthrax killer remains at large, but I'm confident Capitol Hill police will eventually discover the illegal caches of Flubber from which such gravity-defying political platforms have been crafted.