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How do you compromise against the Truth?

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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.


Written by Christopher ZF

July 5, 2011 at 11:34

Jon Stewart’s Disservice

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Relative to: Jon Stewart’s interview with Jonathon Alter on the State of the Union address.

I love Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. That team writes some great political satire, and it almost always has something worth seeing. But there are times when Stewart, maybe in the name of being reasonable, which has of late been a priority of his, has a tendency to downplay very serious issues.

Last night’s show was a great example. While interviewing Jonathon Alter (the link to the video is above), Stewart brought up Obama’s “Sputnik Moment” from the SOTU. The Sputnik Moment that Obama refers to is the need to, essentially, reframe our nation. Invest in clean energy, build a 21st century infrastructure with high-speed rail, high-speed internet, and a better energy grid, invest in clean cars and get people to drive these cars. Serious challenges that will likely define the new American Century.  Challenges that, in reality, probably rival getting an American to be the first on the moon.

But Stewart sees this as a boring challenge. Not interesting, not particularly exciting. Not like a moon landing. Just not that sexy. “It didn’t strike me as a Sputnik Moment,” Stewart quipped, “as much as, say, let’s all change our light bulbs.” Jon Stewart, you can help make this sexy. You influence your audience in a real, practical way. Don’t belittle high-speed internet access in rural areas and electric cars. These are serious problems and solving them will be much more valuable to our future than beating Russia in the space race (at least comparable). So take it seriously, and while we’re at it, take changing the country’s light bulbs seriously too.

**On a side note. There has been quite a bit of teasing of President Obama ‘s pledge to get high-speed internet to %98 percent of Americans. As though somehow this is not an important priority that does not deserve the kind of attention that President Obama gives it.

This is so wrong. Internet means connection to the world, phone service, jobs, services, everything that people like myself take for granted, and think, ‘well I don’t need the internet.’ If you want to see the difference of not having internet, at all, and having it at your fingertips, visit the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and Reservations around the Northwest who have no internet service–there is no profit in providing supremely rural areas with internet service– and what that can mean to a rural community. It is very important, and folks (like myself and most urban/suburban Americans) who have internet at their homes, on their mobiles, at school and work and everywhere should not take for granted the advantage that provides. You may think you don’t need it, but take it away from everyone, and it’s a very real injustice.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 27, 2011 at 11:14

Following up on the SOTU

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Relative to: President Obama’s State of the Union address last night.

Much more detail on this speech can be found elsewhere. Actually everywhere. But there were a few things that TRC wanted to take a moment and comment on regarding the SOTU. The first is that the praise/complaint about Democrats and Republicans sitting together is boring. It’s mildly interesting that the chamber was a mixed-party affair. But only mildly. That it seemed to cut down on the abundance of applause makes it worth it. If you’re behavior at the SOTU is different while sitting next to Rep. Steve King than it is sitting next to Sen. Franken, well that’s probably behavior best left home.

Second, Energy. This was both a conciliatory speech and one meant to draw clear party distinctions, and in walking that line, I thought the President did fairly well. For example, I wanted to hear about Climate Change legislation. Some kind of plan or acknowledgement from our Democratic President that we absolutely must have taxes on carbon. That did not happen. Rather, Obama spoke at length about investments in clean energy, and the need for competitiveness in this arena, and proposed that our country receive %80 of our electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.  These are related topics, one left out, I presume, as divisive; one seen as a bipartisan opportunity. Mentioning Climate Change would just turn the nose of Speaker Boehner, who mostly remained straight-nosed. I understand that.
–Two last thoughts on the energy section:  1) Why the stern faces on the GOP at the mention of taking back $4 Billion in tax breaks from oil companies? Honestly, who cares about the oil companies? Can we not get past this love and realize that we need clean energy now? 2) President Obama, stop mentioning clean coal. You’ve been talking about clean coal since your days in the Illinois Senate, and it is not real.

Third, Budget, Taxes and Spending Cuts. I’m no budget expert, but I don’t know what’s going on here. President Obama attempted to be bipartisan while drawing a line in the sand. Is there any potential of working together to cut the deficit? No. Because there are fundamental factual disputes that will keep this from happening. Either Healthcare will increase the deficit or repealing Healthcare will increase the deficit. Either spending is largely to blame and budget cuts can largely  solve our deficit problem or it cannot. If we won’t increase taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy, (literally the uber-rich) but will cut education, well, we’re not going to balance our budget. Or if we do, what cost will it come at?  This may be the biggest party divide on the issue, but the President is right, taxes are not punishment.  “We simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.”

As for a 5-year discretionary budget freeze, will that help?

Most of the rest of speech was surprisingly conciliatory in tone and content: America is the best country there ever was, is, or will be. Education reform is necessary, rewrite the tax code, medical malpractice reform, allowing recruiters into all colleges and universities, shrink and streamline the federal government (perhaps the most surprising part of the speech–salmon regulation is incredibly convoluted). None of this will be particularly pleasing to the “liberal base” but much of this is why, according to Politics Daily, Obama’s speech was so well liked by Americans.  The notion that Obama and the GOP could come together and agree on much, and solve problems by negotiating is a very positive idea, and one that hopefully can be realized.

That might be a little too hopeful, but for today, one can hope.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 26, 2011 at 11:55

Posted in Congress, Obama, Politics

What Obama should say tomorrow:

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Relative to: five things that TRC would like to hear Obama say during this year’s State of the Union Address.

As Democrats and Republicans sit side by side, being annoyed by each others political world-views and policy plans, Obama will be making his State of the Union Address. While he has previewed his plans to discuss the new Sputnik moment and will most likely be passionate and his speech well-delivered, there are a few items that, in this blog’s opinion, the President should include in his SOTU:

1. Balancing the budget is hard, and will require raising taxes ( yes) and making cuts in services (yes). But we should not pretend that government spending cannot help our country get out of this recession.

2. Something substantial about job creation. Seriously, what are we going to do to actually create jobs. Small businesses are the key to the American economy, and anti-business policies from the government are costing jobs are meaningless platitudes, and probably not terribly accurate. So what are you going to do to get jobs back?

3. “Whatever it takes, I will not let congress wholesale repeal, piecemeal deconstruct, or defund the healthcare bill.”

4. Climate Change, surprise, is still a huge problem and we are still destroying the planet and making no true advances towards solving the problem. EPA has regulatory powers over greenhouse gases, and if congress remains unwilling to take serious action at reducing CO2 emissions, then President Obama must be willing to veto any attempt to repeal EPA’s regulatory authority.

5. Change is important, and bringing change to Washington is important, and we’re still planning to make change you can believe in, but 1-4 are far more important.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 24, 2011 at 15:20

Posted in Obama, Politics

New Start Treaty Nears Completion?

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Relative to: The New Start Treaty, and Obama’s Agenda.

As much as Mitch McConnell and other GOPers have said their primary senate intentions are to make Mr. Obama a one-term president, it seems they just can’t keep the President down, even amidst a lame-duck session that was supposed to allow no victories for Democrats before the new Republicans arrived in DC. On the heels of the repeal of DADT, today  it looks likely that the New Start Treaty will pass before the end of the year (day?), renewing and updating the nuclear arms treaty that has existed with US, Russia, and others for decades.

Last time this subject appeared at TRC, we stated that there is only one correct answer when it comes to dealing with nuclear weapons. Though Lamar Alexander may represent the wrong answer–“the United States would be left with enough nuclear firepower “to blow anyone to kingdom come”–not passing the New Start treaty is definitely a step away from the right answer with nukes. New Start is not the perfect way to manage such destructive capability, and blowing others to kingdom come is exactly the problem. But we’ll take it for now, because for now, it is better than having no treaty at all, and letting nuclear weapons fall off the radar.

Finally, the GOP would be advised to notice how President Obama–whose presidency has been marked by slow, thoughtful, deliberate work on serious, long-term issues–has continued doing what he does best (and which drives liberals mad). Despite the historic elections, and the swinging of the nation back to the Republicans, and the failing economy and etc. etc. etc., the President has managed to continue to achieve legislative priorities by winning over Republican votes. Despite the damnedest efforts of GOP.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 21, 2010 at 10:34

Disrupting for Disruption’s sake.

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Relative to: John Kyl’s decision to block a vote on the Nuclear Arms Treaty.

The President has taken a clear hit by losing his House Majority, slimming his Senate Majority, and losing his popularity at home. Thus, he will likely turn his attentions abroad, where Presidents often make their lasting marks, to Foreign Policy. He has successfully negotiated a new non-proliferation treaty with Russia and signed it earlier this year. It now awaits ratification by the US Congress.

For goodness sakes, congress, ratify the treaty! For political gain you will allow the world to be without a nuclear arms treaty? Hopefully it is just John Kyl and his pals that don’t want to see this come about immediately. A vote is likely to be held this year. We’re talking about nuclear weapons; not domestic budgets and tax codes. There is only one right thing to do when nuclear weapons are involved.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 18, 2010 at 11:34

Posted in foreign affairs, Obama

Lame Duck Obama

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Relative to: Walter Russell Mead, A President at Bay.

In the wake of the Republican landslide midterm elections, a great deal of mediocre-to-awful writing has appeared on the situation that President Obama finds himself in for the remainder of his term. Searching through the muck, I found WR Mead’s post to be among the best, and I highly recommend the read.

Mead discusses the unrealistic expectations put upon Obama and America’s love affair with candidate Obama, but he also looks squarely, and fairly, at the failures for which President Obama and his administration are responsible.With an eye towards history, and what can yet be done by President Obama, the new Republican wave entering Washington would do well to heed Mead’s conclusion.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 9, 2010 at 19:17

Posted in Elections, Obama