Now that the Republicans in Congress have failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, they’re whining about how the Democrats refused to compromise. Why Democrats would want to join in on the destruction of their president’s signature program is never explained, and the complaints of the right wing might as well be dismissed as partisanship without purpose. But all this plaintive warbling treats compromise as a value in itself, not as something that we have to accept.
Now compromise in personal relationships is a healthy thing, and perhaps politicians are falling victim of the logical fallacy of false analogy. As Trump has shown us, government is not a business, and it’s also not a family. Unlike so many Americans, I don’t want members of Congress to get along, to have sleep-overs, or to sing Kumbaya with each other. Politics is war by other means, and it’s only tolerable when it’s done in honest combat, not in some pathetic attempt to recreate a symbolic Christmas in no man’s land.
The fight over Obamacare illustrates this. One reason that the Affordable Care Act is imperfect is that Obama and the Democrats tried to make the package of laws acceptable to Republicans, despite it being obvious that the right wing would never accept the reforms. Obama’s main flaw as a politician is his worshipful attitude toward getting along. The speech that put him on the national stage, delivered to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, was a weakling’s call for blandness, rather than rallying the troops to engage in the battle of ideas, and people loved it. Enough to get him elected, twice, anyway. But when you bring an olive branch to a knife fight, you should expect to lose, and it’s no good having a hissy fit about it. Obama was a competent manager, but if he had been more ambitious, if he, for example, had fought for single payer or at least a public option, imagine how much good he could have done.
Compromise is sometimes necessary. Northern Ireland experienced decades of killing over petty differences regarding which interpretation of the divine is right, magnified by the conflict between a colonial power and the native population. To save lives, sometimes the war simply has to come to an end, even when neither side achieves victory. When a budget has to be passed, sometimes the parties just have to accept that these goodies will be paid for, while those sources of revenue will be cut to keep things running.
But that’s no reason to give up the fight before it gets started. That fight is an effective means of testing ideas — presuming we can purify the combat from the bribery of the donor class — to see what will survive. We’re being denied that process when politicians moan about the need to give in. Doing this proves them to be losers who have bought into the appearance of entitlement of office.
As I said, compromise is for the exhausted, not for capable people who arrive fresh on the field, and a powerful people shouldn’t allow their leaders to shirk the duty to engage.
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