The Republican Party as the “Party of Ronald Reagan” is well and truly dead, and even the Democrats have taken notice.
Reagan talked about getting government out of the way in order to unleash the power of the market and the entrepreneurial talent of small business.
For better or worse, that has meant that for most of the past 40 years the Republican Party has been, even more than the party of tax cuts, the party of deregulation. That has sometimes gone awry, especially when risky business activities have been deregulated while taxpayers have have been left on the hook for the bailouts that followed when those activities didn’t pan out.
But it has also fostered an environment of dynamism and creativity that has remade the economy for the 21st century. The proof of that is most obvious in the technology sector, which hasn’t been around in its present form long enough to accumulate a lot of regulations.
That, however, is changing. There is a drive to regulate the tech industry, and it’s coming from both ends of the spectrum: From Democrats who hate and distrust bigness in anything but government, but also from Republicans who have decided free-market dynamism must now play second fiddle to a renewed culture war.
Take Florida, for example, where Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law Monday allowing any person “deplatformed” by a tech company to sue for up to $100,000 in damages. This would be like saying a person could sue a TV station for not giving them free airtime or a newspaper for not printing their letter to the editor. It’s a complete reversal of what the First Amendment actually means.
And Florida lawmakers know the law they passed is bad, which is why they put in a huge exemption for any company that owns a theme park in Florida. This sleight of hand is a tricky way to give one of Florida’s biggest businesses, Disney, a free pass.
Alabama lawmakers are playing the game on a smaller scale, but they’re playing nonetheless.
On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that bans so-called “vaccine passports.” That’s just a fancy way of saying no business, school, state or local facility, or private or public event can deny entry or service to someone for being unable or unwilling to show they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur sponsored the legislation, which passed the GOP-controlled Legislature with overwhelming support. Orr said the bill’s purpose is “to prevent the creation of a discriminatory society based on vaccination status.”
Yet, as Orr admitted, we already do that in some circumstances, which is why his bill has exemptions for existing school vaccinations.
Tellingly, the new law has no criminal penalties for violations, and probably few businesses want to check people’s vaccination status, anyway. Like most skirmishes in the new culture war, it’s mostly just for show. But the main thing it shows is Republicans are no longer even pretending to be a party of smaller government.
Democrats have pounced.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, according to The Associated Press, observed that Republicans are choosing to dictate to businesses what they can and can’t do.
After years of attacking Democrats — often with good cause — for trying to pick winners and losers in the economy, Republicans have embraced the same approach. They still favor deregulation for favored businesses, such as anything that pumps carbon dioxide into the air, but are all for regulations that punish businesses or business behavior they don’t like.