For most of the last 70 years in the United States, ever since the Red Scare of the 1950s, the Republican Party has been the party of repression -- more intolerant of political dissent, more inclined to censor, and more eager to use government to ruin livelihoods.
Of course the Democratic Party hasn't always been faithful to civil liberties. Southern Democratic administrations enforced racial segregation. Two Democratic national administrations put Martin Luther King under FBI surveillance and one also spied on Vietnam war protesters. But on the whole the Democrats moved past those things.
Not anymore. Amid the virus epidemic and the growth of political correctness and the "cancel culture," coercion of individuals now is almost entirely a phenomenon of the Democratic national administration, Democratic state administrations, and Democratic polemicists. Never before has the old joke been more accurate: that Democrats don't care what you do as long as it's mandatory.
The polling company Rasmussen Reports may not be the best in the country but it is generally taken seriously by leaders in both parties, and a poll it did last month on government policy toward the epidemic may be hard to dispute on the basis of published and broadcast news and commentary.
According to the Rasmussen poll:
-- 55% of Democrats favor authorizing the government to fine people who do not accept COVID-19 vaccination, while only 19% of Republicans and 25% of unaffiliated voters do.
-- 59% of Democrats favor authorizing the government to confine to their homes people who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Republicans oppose that idea by 79% and unaffiliated voters by 71%.
-- Worse, 48% of Democrats favor letting government fine or even imprison people who publicly question the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. Only 27% of all voters -- just 14% of Republicans and 18% of unaffiliateds -- favor making such criticism a crime.
-- 45% of Democrats favor authorizing government to force people to live in "designated facilities or locations" if they refuse vaccination. This concentration camp idea is opposed by 71% of all voters, including 78% of Republicans and 64% of unaffiliateds.
-- 47% of Democrats favor having the government electronically track unvaccinated people. This is opposed by 66% of all poll respondents.
-- 29% of Democrats favor taking children away from parents who refuse to be vaccinated, more than twice the level of support found in the rest of the population.
Of course especially when Donald Trump is around polls show that many Republicans also express belief in nutty things. But as reckless and repugnant as Trump could be as president, he was never a serious threat to civil liberty.
Despite the huge support among Democrats for more coercive policies amid the epidemic, Democratic governors, including Connecticut's Ned Lamont, lately have been retreating from coercion, either because those policies seem to cause more damage than they prevent or because the governors realize that people are getting tired of coercion on the eve of election campaigns.
Nevertheless, with repression and coercion finding such support among Democrats -- not just in regard to the epidemic but in regard to dissent generally -- people who want to preserve civil liberty may want to test all Democratic candidates, up and down the party's ticket, about the potential policies itemized in the Rasmussen poll, just as people might want to question Republican candidates about the return of Trump.
Meanwhile complaints from parents about public school curriculums and books stocked by school libraries are being called censorship. They're not.
While the "cancel culture" seeks to drive dissenters out of all forums, complaints about school curriculums and libraries involve only what government chooses to teach or recommend to students. Even if the material being challenged in schools is removed, it will remain available elsewhere.
If a school is to be public, it must answer to the public for what it teaches and recommends, and school boards, superintendents, teachers, and librarians can't be the last word about that. What is taught and recommended by public schools is ultimately for the public to decide.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.