Monday, July 7, 2014

Uncompromisingly Wrong

The Fourth of July is always a great time to revisit what makes the United States a great nation, and I always come back to the same characteristic: Compromise. There is probably nothing more American than our genius for compromise, even more so than apple pie and motherhood, both of which were invented by people who didn't live here in the first place. But compromise? We are good at that, and the reason I think we're in the political quagmire we find ourselves in today is because we've stopped compromising, and I blame the Tea Party for this situation.

I know the right wing likes to blame President Obama or Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for not compromising when the Democrats had the majority from 2009-2011, but the truth is that all three of them did offer opportunities for the Republicans to support the health care law that, after all, was the brainchild of conservative scholars who thought it a far better idea than what the Clintons were peddling in the 1990s. The same is true for the Dodd-Frank bill and the stimulus package, which had far too many Republican tax breaks and not enough in grass-roots spending to be fully effective. But at least those laws got passed.

The problem today is that the Tea Party-inspired GOP has become the party that has consistently traded the good for the perfect and has come up empty each time. They could have had a grand bargain twice that cut social programs and the deficit, but because it didn't go far enough, the Tea Party faction in the House wouldn't support it. The same is true of the ACA, which the right still wants to repeal, and a whole host of other issues where we could actually have made some progress and then improved the legislation down the road, but because the bills required compromise, the Tea Party was not interested.

I fully understand that this is sometimes the way politics goes in this country, but this time it seems different because now the right is saying that they, and only they, interpret the Constitution as it should be analyzed, so anything that runs afoul of that reading is wrong and un-American. This is the dangerous part of their agenda and the one that runs directly against their reading of American history, because they reject compromise of any sort.

This country, plain and simply, was built on compromise. The Declaration of Independence was a compromise that mentioned freedom and equality but didn't mention slavery. The Constitution was a compromise over commerce, slavery and representation. The run-up to the Civil War included a number of compromises that in the end could not satisfy the southerners who decided that slavery was a protected right and got the Supreme Court to agree with them. Financial legislation, social legislation, immigration laws and even US foreign policy in the era of the great world wars had elements of compromise.

FDR compromised, as did every other president we've ever elected. You'd think that Ronald Reagan was some great pillar of conservatism who blocked everything the Democrats sent him over eight years, but he compromised too. He cut taxes and then raised them. He signed a compromise immigration law and a tax overhaul that had both liberal and conservative elements. He bargained with terrorists after saying he would never do that. George H.W. Bush, who I think will be rehabilitated once historians get into the meat of his administration, did the absolute right thing by raising taxes to fight the budget deficit in the early 1990s.

You get the picture, I presume.

Lack of compromise is political suicide, and that's a lesson that the Tea Party will ultimately learn. The more savvy politicians know that you need to get what you can given the political mood and realities of the times. Then you run on your successes and build on them. That's how the Republicans ran the country until the 1930s and how the liberals ran things until the 1990s. Since then, what has government really accomplished? It's so bad now it took the threat of massive disruptions to get a Farm Bill. Bob Dole couldn't even convince his fellow Republicans to back a measure that would support people with physical disabilities.

We'll get through this and people will look back and wonder how it ever got so bad. If the Tea Party persists, though, they will become a historic party.

Like the Federalists and the Whigs.

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