How do you compromise against the Truth?
What does it mean to be unwilling to compromise? At any cost, it seems, the GOP in the US Legislature are simply not going to waiver on their demands, and it might have some serious consequences. Maybe. Possibly. This wasn’t always the case and it hasn’t always been a GOP problem, but something has changed this time around with the GOP. David Brooks wonders what’s happened to the Republican Party:
Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way. There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.
If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.
The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.
This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
This is pretty spot-on, in my opinion. The Democrats are in a position of willingness to compromise–for whatever reason, political weakness or political savvy or just wanting to be done with this to move on to their issues, who knows–and the Republicans can really get incredible sacrifices from the Democratic Sanctuary of Holy Welfare Programs. So why won’t they do it? Brooks offers several reasons that may be behind the stubbornness: refusal to accept the logic of compromise, a willingness to disregard scholars and experts for no reason at all, a lack of moral decency in the casual flaunting of enormous national risk. These are all reasonable arguments, and there is something to each of them in this debate. But they are applicable to any debate such as this. There must be another reason.
I think the real nature of the problem is much more simple. The GOP has realized it is on the upswing in the past two years or so. The Tea-Partiers, or whatever we are calling this new firebrand of conservatism, have evangelized the party and turned its political values into cocksure capital T Truth. Why would anyone compromise if they know, know with a certainty that is without fail, that what they are doing is right in the eternal sense of the word? For example, why would Michele Bachmann compromise on her plans, when God clearly lays out the appropriate plan right there in Chronicles? There’s no incentive to negotiate against God’s Will. There have always been religious conservatives in the US Government. And being a religious conservative is not the problem. The problem is when the Truth of say, the Bible, becomes the Truth of Debt Ceiling Limits in the US in 2011 and Why This Vote on the Debt Ceiling is Unlike Any Other Debt Ceiling Vote in US History. There is no equivalence.
When we talk about the debt ceiling and cutting spending and raising taxes, our politicians should worry about doing what is right, but being Right is not something our elected officials should claim, on either side. The reality of governing in a divided government is such that one should try to compromise, but in doing so try to gain more concessions from your opponents than you give up to them. The GOP could truly, utterly transform the US Government by taking advantage of Obama’s willingness to stay in the role of moderate and moderator to the parties and to compromise (like they did on the Bush tax cuts) and change the shape of the national government towards their political vision–whatever that might be. But digging in their heels in the face of all compromise, well, what good does anyone see coming from that?
As Brooks concludes: Over the past week, Democrats have stopped making concessions. They are coming to the conclusion that if the Republicans are fanatics then they better be fanatics, too.
This is the worst possible outcome, when extremism takes over both sides of a government, and the few people left in the middle, willing to work together, become the ridiculous ones. We can see the results of this in Minnesota, where my state government has decided that compromise would be weak, and that it is better to let the state shutdown, lay off thousands of workers, jeopardize health and safety, and ruin a whole lot of summer vacations, because when one is cocksure of the truth, there can be no compromise. It’s not about being weak politically–I would love to see Dayton’s plan emerge over the Republican one in Minnesota, and I think it will–but there comes a time when compromise is necessary.
The opportunity is still there for the new conservatism to learn something about how government really operates. And if they don’t learn that soon, they might lose their chance to participate in the conversation at all.
David Brooks has been widely (widely!) criticized for his editorial today, mostly for taking the Republicans to task for rejecting a deal that does not exist and calling conservatives anti-intellectuals and morally deficient, etc,. I think this is fair criticism of Brooks, because the White House and Reid have not actually made a specific deal to the Republicans, and the other things.
I do not, however, think that this criticism defeats the argument Brooks is making, nor is it relevant to the point Relative Comment is making. Here, we are concerned not with whether some budget deal has been made, or the intellectual nature of GOPers, but rather how the new brand of Tea-Party Conservatism requires a faithfulness to political values that equates with religious fervor and thus makes compromise nearly impossible. Just wanted to make a note.