With 36 shopping days until the ‘fiscal cliff’ pundits and analysts from both sides are offering their opinions and giving advice to the political combatants. And as usual, the left is calling for President Obama to not ‘cave in’ like he did in in 2010, he didn’t, and the right is calling for Speaker Boehner to hold fast and not allow a tax increase. Now that we are passed the election and Black Friday the rhetoric will amp up on cable news, I won’t watch, and the Sunday Talk Shows, won’t be watching those either, to a fever pitch with the zealots on each side looking for unconditional surrender and unanimous victory. Yes compromise is on the endangered list of political will.
But should this come as a surprise to anyone? In every aspect of society we feel we have to treat everything as a competition. Within hours of the Gaze cease fire, pundits were already trying to declare winners and losers. Now I am no ‘everybody gets a trophy for participation’ kind of guy. I believe in competition there needs to be winners and losers and promoting mediocrity is harmful and frankly un-American. But good governance is not a competition. Elections yes. Governance no.
Now that is not to say that the opposition party should simply roll over and rubber stamp what the party in power wants to do. There should be opposition and debate because it is only through the democratic process can we hope to advance. And the process has to include give and take and realizing that the best deal is the deal where both sides feel they have accomplished something. For the record, the 2010 deal during the lame duck Congress that the professional left likes to vilify the president over, included billions of dollars for extending unemployment benefits, continuation of middle class income tax rate cuts, and a payroll tax cut. But the left only remembers that tax cuts for the rich were also extended, businesses were granted tax benefits, and the estate tax wasn’t increased. It seemed the only people who didn’t get what they wanted were the pure deficit hawks who wanted spending cuts and the end of corporate welfare. Oh and by the way, those that thought President Obama caved apparently forgot he also got a new START Treaty signed, DADT repealed, and was able to continue funding for Race To The Top and alternative energy research. One could argue that it isn’t compromise if both sides get everything and no true sacrifice is made. I reacted in such a way when I saw the details of the 2010 deal and thought that the government was simply making sure everybody and every constituency got a gift.
So the latest round of deal making and bargaining is here. I am not going to get into the pros and cons of lowering rates, eliminating deductions, dividend income versus ordinary income, the benefits of a territorial tax system, or the AMT. Instead I am reminding everyone that this nation was born out of compromise, survived crises by compromising, met the challenges of a dynamic world through compromise, and evolved to the changes in societal beliefs via compromise. Across the political spectrum everybody loves the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, too bad they don’t love the need to compromise like our founders. Hell, we wouldn’t even be talking about this today if it weren’t for the Great Compromise that established the idea of a bicameral legislature with two bodies: one based on state population, the other on equal representation. During those heated testy bitter debates, these men were able to compromise on slave trade (ok more like kick the can down the road), tariffs, and even how the president was to be elected. (Pardon this digression but the 3/5ths compromise establishing slaves as 3/5ths of a non-slave for determining population and House representation conflicted with the notion that slaves were property and thus had no rights, but hey I guess the white guys in the south wanted to make sure they had as much representation as possible to keep slavery alive).
Yes in many of the best deals both parties walk away thinking they won. But in political compromise isn’t more important that the nation wins in the long term? Yes sometimes the can gets kicked down the road resulting in a potentially bigger problem, but those instances are rare as in the case of abolishing slavery. Figuring out tax codes, discretionary spending, immigration, and the environment really shouldn’t be this difficult when compared to what happened in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1787 when 55 state delegates hammered out the Constitution.
It really shouldn’t be this difficult. But it’s not even the hunger to win that is causing this gridlock, the fear of being perceived as having lost is equally motivating yielding progress crippling intransigence. Maybe the founders had it easier, there was no 24 hour news cycle and very few pundits.
If erring is human, forgiving divine, what is compromising?