There is a reason strong ideologies end up ruling alone – National Socialism, Italian Fascism, Soviet Communism, Chinese Communism…They don’t play well with others, no more than do state religions – Catholicism or Protestantism, Islam, or Judaism. They don’t compromise. Compromise is a betrayal of the purity that is essential to ideologies and religious doctrines.
The Republican Party is no different. As Paul Krugman observed the other day, “the modern G.O.P. fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic presidency.” Being infected by ideals of both political and religious purity, they are especially poorly placed to function in a multi-party system of government; it’s like trying to cram the proverbial square peg into a round hole.
In a modern, pluralistic liberal democracy like the United States there must be compromise for government to function – a free exchange of ideas – debate on the issues, arguments (sometimes vehement) but in the end, compromise. Compromise is what keeps democracy working. Compromise is what gave us the United States Constitution. If our current crop of Republicans had been at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, we would have no Constitution today, and that’s a point they seem not to understand. It took a lot of give and take – not one individual or group dictating to another – to forge that all-important government.
It seems absurd to think the government and the nation can function without the same willingness to compromise in a much more complex 21st century, but that seems to be the Republican mantra.
House Speaker John Boehner is clearly one of those who needs a refresher course in the principles of American government. The Republicans since 2008 have come to believe that diktat, not compromise, is the essence of government. You can get away with dictating as to a defeated foe when, as under George W. Bush, the dominant party has full control over the executive and legislative branches. But that is not the situation of today with the Democrats in control of the executive and the Senate and Republicans still treating the Democrats like a defeated foe subject to their diktat, as their negotiators who don’t negotiate demonstrate.
The bewildered Boehner complains,
“What the President is asking us to do just won’t pass.” Of the White House he insisted, “The only thing they’ve been firm on is these damn tax increases.”
But where tax increases are concerned polls show the American people are more flexible than Boehner admits:
On July 1 we reported here that no less than 19 polls showed that Americans favored tax hikes to cut the deficit. A July 2011 Gallup Poll from data gathered July 7-10 shows that Americans are open to tax hikes. The largest block of respondents (32 percent) expressed a desire to see the deficit reduced by a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. And as we reported the other day, a July 14 Quinnipiac poll “found that 67% of those surveyed felt that any deal to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes on the rich.”
Yet Boehner insists all he has to do is to talk to the American people to find out they support the GOP’s position on no tax hikes. Who is he talking to?
The Obama Administration’s position was expressed by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer:
“The President is ready, willing and able to make the tough choices on entitlements, but you can’t have a balanced approach that is good for the country if you are unwilling to ask the wealthy and special interests to pay their fair share, unfortunately that is the Republican position right now – seniors, middle class families, and college students should sacrifice, but not the wealthiest”
Of course, the White House has already compromised quite a bit, much to the disappointment and anger of liberal and especially progressive Democrats. As Paul Krugman wrote the other day,
President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction deal that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. These are extraordinary concessions. As The Times’s Nate Silver points out, the president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers — in fact, if anything, they’re a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers!
This willingness to compromise seems to have thrown John Boehner for a loop. Expressing his frustration to reporters, Boehner makes a strange complaint: that the White House is being too flexible in its negotiations:
“Dealing with them the last couple months has been like dealing with Jell-O. Some days it is firmer than others. Sometimes it’s like they’ve left it out over night.”
But flexibility is how negotiations work. It’s the essential ingredient to compromise. The extent to which the modern Republican Party is wedded to an authoritarian ideology is made evident by this puzzlement over the concept of flexibility. The utterly inflexible Republican leadership is baffled by the concept, as if confronting for the first time the fact that sand is a malleable substance. In their black and white thought bubble negotiations must be between two stout walls, one of which must give way by being utterly crushed by the other.
What is especially troubling is that the Republican leadership in the House continues to believe against all the evidence that they still have the backing of the American people. But they never had a mandate. They lost the presidential election in 2008 and they failed to take control of the Senate in 2010. Control of the House is not a mandate.
While Boehner says he doesn’t want to see the government default – “Nobody wants to go there, because nobody knows what’s going to happen. It’s a crapshoot” – he also insists that “The American people want us to hang tough,” and adds that the White House knows “they’re not winning” this argument.
No need to compromise when you insist the American people don’t want you to, and when you believe you’re winning the argument. Why give away anything under those circumstances? Hitler had chances to end WWII early and reap a different outcome but he was so sure of his own rightness, the support of the German people, and his own inevitable and complete victory that he shrugged aside all possibilities of a negotiated settlement.
But it’s worse even than that: the Republicans in the House seem to have slid into a bunker mentality – they have ceased to process recent and pertinent data. Boehner’s claims are reminiscent of Hitler insisting he was winning the war even while the Third Reich was largely confined to his underground bunker in a ruined and embattled Berlin. Bush is gone – his short-lived era of just a few short years ago is history – just as for Hitler in 1945 the Third Reich was history.
When the Republicans lose again in 2012, the cognitive dissonance they suffered in 2008 will be multiplied on an order of magnitude. You’ll need to read sheep’s entrails or powers beyond human understanding to see the Republican Party of 2013, but you can bet your last dollar (if you have any left by then) that there will be lots of blame being tossed around, and none of it at themselves.