Friday, January 22, 2016

On Political Compromise and the 2016 Election

This topic has been bouncing around my head for a few days. First, I began to think about this deeply based on a discussion with some lovely friends over dinner the other day. We wandered down the path of the Democratic primary election, and I mentioned my fondness for Bernie Sanders. My friends both are leaning Hillary Clinton's direction and one of the reasons they cited is that she seems more likely, in their view, to be able to reach across the aisle and actually make bipartisan progress on issues with Republicans.

I'm not entirely sure I buy that take on Hillary, but that's not what I'm focusing on at the moment. It just made me more interested in the the mere idea of political compromise as a virtue.

I couldn't help but feel that if the three of us had been Republicans discussing those primary choices (gag), we wouldn't have been evaluating candidates on ability to compromise. I think I can say that most people are familiar with the recent trend for the Republican party to be the "party of no." Through the Obama presidency, their main objective, sometimes explicitly stated, has been to block legislation and progress.

Thinking about this after my dinner discussion with friends made me wonder, why do more left leaning folks in the US seem to feel that we bear the responsibility of compromise? Is this a real thing or is it just my perception?

In listening to a recent episode of the Diane Rehm show (the morning after, great timing!) I learned that most Republican party members actually agree with this apparent mentality of their elected officials to not budge. The show segment was called The Evolution and Future of American Conservatism (which you can read or listen to in full here.) One of the guests was E.J. Dionne Jr. a senior fellow at Brookings, columnist at The Washington Post, and author of "Why the Right Went Wrong." He shared:
Pew asked a great question in 2013. Do you support politicians who make compromises with people you disagree with, or do you prefer politicians who stick to their principles? Among Democrats, 59 percent preferred compromise seekers. Among Republicans, only 36 percent did...this polarization is not equal.
Ok, so this isn't just in my mind--it's very real.

Again, I ask why do left leaning folks in the US seem to feel that we bear the responsibility of compromise? Or maybe better put, why do US Conservatives think that compromise is bad?

I'm sure there are a number of theories one could postulate (I'm hypothesizing one which equates compromise and harmony with femininity and too many conservatives have bought into toxic views of masculinity where working together is seen as weakness...flip flopping...whatev.)

The thing is, compromise is obviously necessary and important for actually getting things done. A government which is run by people who all entirely refuse to budge on anything will not serve the people they are elected to represent.

I get that. No argument.

But I do want to take it back to Bernie and Hillary--in their case, is ability to compromise something that should actually be a determining factor between the two? (And if it is, can we even say that Hillary is better at it?)

I'd argue for me that compromise ISN'T always good--in fact, sometimes compromise is antithetical to my values. This is chiefly because the "other side" has become increasingly bigoted in recent years and months. Flagrant racism and xenophobia are displayed by major Republican party candidates more now than ever...if those views translate into policies on which Democrats are meant to compromise on, then how can a middle ground possibly be found by anyone who actually cares about justice and equity?

In other words, should I prefer a candidate with a greater ability to compromise given the current political landscape? Why can't Democrats draw lines in the sand like the Republicans do? Or maybe my question isn't why can't we but rather, why don't we given all that is going on now?

It reminds me, in a very small way, of the "debates" that pop up online (I'm thinking specifically of Tumblr) where one person says something social justice oriented and another person comes back with a bigoted view...when the first person blocks the bigot, they're accused of not "listening to other perspectives." (Example: I was recently called immature/close minded for blocking someone who thought that rape/racist/etc. jokes are like, totes no big deal.) I don't owe someone a "discussion" or a "debate" or my time if what they're saying is 100% hate and damaging to others.

Holding some principles very firm and uncompromisingly isn't the same thing as not negotiating nuanced inner workings policy. Democrats might do well to remember this as we go into a new political landscape for 2016 and beyond. If a Republican led congress is championing racist, sexist, xenophobic, classist, etc. legislation, then Democrats will have a DUTY to invest in a little nay sayinging of their own, if they wish to be ethical leaders for the general public.

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