I’ll make the bold statement from the first line of this article: Romania’s Social Democratic Party (from now on, PSD) is not a leftist political group, but a very conservative hegemon with rather neoliberal and nationalistic tendencies. Regardless of the official written ideology and the day-to-day spoken rhetoric, there is very little about the party that can be classified as progressive or left wing. Even though they support progressive taxation in discourse, their time in government links to a defense of the “unique quota”, they make substantial efforts to attract the religious voters by supporting the increase of church funding, they don’t shy away from using nationalistic campaign slogans (their latest, “Dare to believe in Romania”, is a perfect example), and their most influential representatives occasionally resort to Euroskepticism as an electoral weapon (though the incumbent Romanian representative in the European Commission is a member of their party, they religiously campaign for the European Parliament every 5 years, and they never spoke about Romania’s exit from either the European Union or NATO).
These examples serve as the backbone for a comparison with the United States of America’s Republican Party, a political group which shares similar values and approaches to discourse and government. In order to legitimize the parallel, the four main points of analysis will be presented: views on progressive taxation, their relation to Christian religious institutions, discursive nationalism, and views on international economic and military partnerships. A bonus feature will contain a presentation of the media channels that support the two parties, in order to display patterns of political propaganda and bias.
However, before moving on and expanding the argument, one important mention has to be made: the subject of analysis consists of both declarations and policies that were made or promoted in the past few years by notable representatives of the two parties. Just like Donald Trump’s GOP is clearly not a reflection or continuation of the party of Reagan, a New York republican tends to be more leftist than a peer from Alabama, and the party president’s speech does not necessarily contain the institutional values, similar examples can be given in Romania: the PSD during the presidency of Victor Ponta and Liviu Dragnea approaches politics differently from Ion Iliescu’s mandate (at least in discourse), a social democrat from Sibiu might display different ideas from one of his colleagues from Teleorman, and the speeches of PSD leaders is not always representative for the party’s platform.
First of all, the topic of progressive taxation: Ben Carson, runner for presidential nomination, has said it in the easiest and most comprehensive way – “progressive taxation is socialism”. American conservatism strongly supports business development and keeping corporate taxes very low, therefore the rhetoric against progressive taxation frequently resorts to antagonizing its core idea by pinpointing its origins: such policies are either imported from small socialist European states, or deviously brought from (or by) the Cold War enemy of the American government. Furthermore, US libertarianism (as represented by the likes of Ron Paul and his son Rand) is completely against income taxes and supports the reduction of business taxation in order to create jobs and enable the invisible hand of the free market operate.
One of the very few instances when a principle which resembles progressive taxation was defended is given by Donald Trump’s attempt to differentiate himself from the other Republican nomination-seekers: during a Republican debate from September 2015, Trump has proposed higher taxes for wealthy investors – a mention which didn’t get any support from the other participants, but helped the New York real-estate mogul earn the kind of attention he required in order to get more media coverage. Obviously, it goes against Trump’s campaign as “the greatest jobs president that God ever created” since corporate jobs are a big part of his platform, and it might seem either self-sacrificial or plain hypocritical to lobby for a policy that would shake the foundation of his billionaire status. The defense for progressive taxation might have been made in order to appeal to his core demographic (blue-collar white Americans), as it wasn’t followed by extended support. However, the example mirrors the Romanian social democrats, who are occasionally progressive in discourse and rarely attempt to bring modifications to the unique quota.
Traditionally, a social democratic party should advocate for a progressive taxation plan and argue that it would reduce inequalities. The website of PSD currently lists “introduction of a progressive taxation system in order to reduce social inequality” as one of the core principles of the political organization, yet the practices tell otherwise. First of all, as displayed above, party leader Victor Ponta has distanced himself from the idea that the unique quota might be replaced by any other alternative system during the electoral campaign. Changing the unique quota might seem unappealing to business owners and middle-class citizens who want to seek more capital, as well as trans-national corporations which invest in Romania and provide thousands of jobs. And the fact that two of the wealthiest Romanian businessmen, Ioan Niculae and Sebastian Ghiță, have financed PSD and are associated with big names from its leadership (the latter is even an incumbent deputy who got elected into office as a member of the social democrats) provides a strong argument against any future implementations of a comprehensive progressive tax plan. Why would any political group purposely and consciously do any harm to the financing stakeholders?
In spite of the previous remark and the 2014 discursive attempt of the Social-Liberal Union to push forward a progressive taxation plan, the plan has quickly lost support and quickly disappeared from the public agenda: the proposal for a 3-threshold tax plan was dismissed by the Minister of Finances herself, and the February 2015 draft for a new Fiscal Code (which was still elaborated during the Victor Ponta government) seeks the reduction of the unique quota from 16% to 14% – which reduces taxes for everyone and favors both consumption and employment, but doesn’t reduce inequality in any way. In a way, the reduction of the overall tax rate and the preservation of the anti-progressive taxation system is exactly what a Republican would have sought to accomplish and the PSD politicians have done an excellent job in being conservative. The fact that no legislative bill on a paradigmatic change has been discussed in the Parliament and every governmental draft for a new Fiscal Code has always maintained the unique quota just goes to show that the Romanian social-democrats don’t really keep their word and follow the will of the wealthy.
In terms of religion, both parties share discursive similarities: the textbook American conservative doesn’t refrain from expressing his or her belief in God and uses the creator as a leitmotif in order to legitimize viewpoints on matters such as abortion (which they oppose under the “pro-life” label) and gay marriage; correspondingly, the contemporary PSD rhetoric is based on the fundamental values of being Romanian – and since a very large majority of Romanians are historically Christian-Orthodox, their discourse and policies reflect an extra layer of attention given to this core demographic. The United States of America are secular from a central point of view, but historically there have been state laws that favored certain religious confessions – however, none of them are currently in place and no public financing goes to the churches. By contrast, the Romanian state has been financing the Orthodox Church since 1863, when the clerical belongings have been nationalized by Alexandru-Ioan Cuza. It seemed to be a point of no return, as even the communist regime has respected the agreement (at least to the churches that weren’t demolished). However, the contemporary debate doesn’t rely on preservation (which seems to be taken for granted), but rather on whether the extension of financial privileged to the Orthodox church is beneficial and serves as much more than a way of attracting the votes of the faithful. The previously-quoted platform of PSD doesn’t list anything religious, yet only in the year 2014 the Ponta government has financed Orthodox churches with 22 million euro.
However, in terms of appearances and discourse, there are many instances in which Romanian social-democrats have behaved just like American conservatives would have: they didn’t shy away from showing up in churches, they defended the church’s partisan involvement in the 2014 presidential elections (Liviu Dragnea has claimed that the church has every right to defend its believers), and they used the beliefs to reject gay marriage and support the “traditional family values“. In its purest form, socialism might be atheistic and secular, yet PSD uses the deeply-rooted religious beliefs of Romanians in order to gain electoral capital.
After having established economic and religious similarities between PSD and the GOP, the degree of nationalism will be measured. And in order to demonstrate that both parties resort to national motifs in order to reach their core voters, a short analysis of campaign slogans will be made. The most clear parallel is given by putting together Mitt Romney’s slogan from his 2012 presidential race (“Believe in America”) and PSD’s current slogan for the general elections (“Dare to Believe in Romania”). The similarity is striking, even though we speak about an American conservative whose allegiance to right-wing policies is powerful and religion-backed, and a political party which claims to be socialist and progressive in discourse but does little effort in order to live up to the expectations. Furthermore, GOP politicians usually make use of the American flag and the eagle in order to display their love for their homeland. The Republican Party even has a chapter on their website which is devoted to their plan on “Renewing American Values“. Correspondingly, PSD has been using the red, yellow and blue in its graphic designs and has made sure that the electoral leaflets resemble national symbols.
But another dimension of nationalism is reflected in the various views of the two political institutions. And, as previously mentioned, the GOP of Donald Trump is not very similar to the party of Ronald Reagan: during the first presidential debate against Hilary Clinton, Trump has declared himself against the current financing of NATO’s operations for being too costly for the American federal budget – he iterated that only states that pay their fair share of the military activities should receive the protection. Though most republicans are big fans of foreign military interventions due to the potential flourishing of the war industry (of which they are big stakeholders) and Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy is mostly remembered for his 1987 “Tear down this wall” speech, Trump manages to promote a new type of national pride that is based on economic considerations and a strong sense of military supremacy. Additionally, Trump constantly criticizes international trade agreements such as TTP and NAFTA, by blaming their consequences on the economic status-quo on the outsourcing of jobs.
Though no high-profile member of PSD can afford to make dismissive statements about NATO or the EU, there are certain ties which link to a degree of neocolonialist discourse. First of all, Victor Ponta has become more radical in his Facebook activity and the fact that an Euroskeptic and NATO-skeptic party (PRU, The United Romania Party – an extreme-right political group) promotes him as future prime minister after the upcoming parliamentary elections tells a lot about the politician’s personal stance on the issues. Additionally, the fact that neither Victor Ponta or current PSD president have made any comments about the unusual endorsement should tell a lot. Secondly, every project of the social democrats is promoted by Antena 3, the nationalist-minded and often Euroskeptic television channel which works as the main media channel for the political group – and the last argument of this parallel will rely on media promotion.
Most notoriously, Fox News is one of the most conservative television channels and it always presents Republicans on a bright light. In the 2000 elections, Fox News has presented news reports on swing states becoming Republican, thus influencing other media outlets and voting behavior, despite making up facts. They always come in defense of the GOP and make sure that every rumor or half-truth is turned around in the favor of their political allegiance. Does it sound familiar for the Romanian leaders? Absolutely: Antena 3 has taken the lessons of Fox News and Silvio Berlusconi’s Canale 5 and Italia 1, but they were adapted for the Romanian audience. The journalists do their best to ignite the nationalist spark within their viewers by inviting celebrities and personalities who consider themselves “real Romanians” and “patriots”, the political guests rarely represent all the sides of the debate (and if they do, the minority opinion is cornered), and neocolonialist discourse is in bloom. Antena 3 openly supports PSD and its satellite political organizations (including the pseudo-liberals from ALDE, the conservatives, and members of other parties with similar views) and they even tried to imitate Fox News during the 2014 presidential elections: not only that their exit-polls contained a few percentages more in favor of social-democratic candidate Victor Ponta, but they even refused to acknowledge his final defeat – they sustained their victorious view until the official results were displayed, and when they were confronted with reality, they found a new reason to blame their ideological enemy.
In conclusion, can it be said that PSD is Romania’s version of the GOP? Most certainly, as displayed, there are many similarities: though their discourse depicts a regular European social democratic party, their policies tend to be quite neoliberal. They don’t really support progressive taxation, they make use of religious and national symbols, and they affiliate themselves with political movements and media channels that display Euroskeptic and anti-NATO views. Does PSD have any traces of social democratic policies in its agenda or its history of being in government? Well, the party can be called a Romanian conservative movement that supports social security and welfare benefits. Right-wing-minded commentators dismiss the social-democratic approach to social security for offering welfare too easily and keeping the beneficiaries poor and underdeveloped in order to use them as voters, as well as approving investments in the Orthodox church. PSD certainly has a socialist foundation (which some even call neo-communist), yet certain similarities with the GOP are striking and worth pinpointing. Furthermore, as nationalism, homophobia and xenophobia rise due to international events, PSD will capitalize on the trends and use it for electoral benefit. After all, even PNL (The National Liberal Party) claimed to have taken their country back after the 2014 elections and legitimizing your actions through a seeming national interest continues to draw electoral capital in Romania.
Victor Ponta on Progressive Taxation: http://www.gandul.info/financiar/guvernul-vrea-sa-renunte-la-cota-unica-impozitare-progresiva-de-pana-la-35-13550677
Ben Carson on Socialism: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/09/17/morning-plum-trump-explains-to-gop-rivals-that-taxing-rich-is-not-socialism/?utm_term=.de78d5f82646
Libertarian View on Income Taxation: http://www.ronpaul.com/taxes/
Greatest Jobs President: http://www.thewrap.com/donald-trump-announces-presidential-run-ill-be-greatest-jobs-president-that-god-ever-created/
PSD’s Official Stand on Progressive Taxation: www.psd.ro/despre/in-ce-credem
Ioan Niculae’s Affairs with PSD: http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-esential-20965499-stenograme-dna-ioan-niculae-dadea-ordine-psd-guvernului.htm
Sebastian Ghita’s Affairs with PSD: http://www.zf.ro/business-hi-tech/cine-este-sebastian-ghita-patronul-grupului-asesoft-si-cum-se-explica-seria-de-achizitii-realizate-in-plina-criza-7559889
Ministry of Finances Ioana Petrescu Dismisses Elimination of Unique Quota: http://www.capital.ro/cota-unica-dispare-din-2016-vom-avea-cota-progresiva-in-trei-trepte.html
News on Proposal for New Fiscal Code, February 2015: http://www.mediafax.ro/economic/cota-unica-de-impozitare-va-fi-redusa-de-la-16-la-14-din-2019-13845089
22 Million Euro Spent on Churches in 2014: http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-esential-18901107-anul-electoral-umplut-vistieria-bisericii-cultele-primit-suplimentari-record-22-milioane-euro-guvern-2014.htm
Liviu Dragnea on the Church’s Lobby for Victor Ponta: http://www.gandul.info/stiri/liviu-dragnea-sunt-un-fanatic-religios-eu-vad-familia-formata-dintr-un-barbat-si-o-femeie-15842740
Liviu Dragnea on Gay Marriage: http://www.gandul.info/stiri/liviu-dragnea-sunt-un-fanatic-religios-eu-vad-familia-formata-dintr-un-barbat-si-o-femeie-15842740
GOP’s Renewing of American Values: https://www.gop.com/platform/renewing-american-values/
PSD Banner: http://www.ziare.com/alegeri/alegeri-parlamentare-2016/indrazneste-sa-crezi-in-romania-sloganul-psd-pentru-campania-electorala-video-1440805
Trump on NATO: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/27/donald-trump-nato-isolationist
Trump on NAFTA: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/28/us/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-trade-tpp-nafta.html
Fox News During 2000 Presidential Elections: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/11/fox-n17.html
Antena 3’s Coverage on the 2014 Presidential Elections Result: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ApscCk0hMM
GOP Logo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/ab/GOP_Logo1.svg/1280px-GOP_Logo1 (dot svg dot com)
PSD Logo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7c/Partidul_Social_Democrat_logo.svg/2000px-Partidul_Social_Democrat_logo (dot svg dot com)