The Nature of Political Compromise, and Bourbon

Watching the GOP on cable news fulminating about health care reform makes me think about the nature of compromise.

(Well, actually, first it makes me giggle a bit; then I get very quiet and think about America’s future; then more giggling, only bitter now; then I give the television the finger; then I grab a bottle of bourbon while muttering about John Boehner being an “asshat”; and then I start thinking about the nature of political compromise.)

Near as I can figure, there are three reasons for compromise in our legislative system.

1) To get the votes necessary to pass a bill – With the large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, compromise for votes (at least outside of the Blue Dogs) is not very needed. Also worth noting that when the Republicans were in power their approach towards this flavor of compromise went along the lines of telling the Democrats they were communistic, terrorist loving, troop hating, wusses if they didn’t tow the line, and then calling them that anyway after they did.

2) As an end in itself – The idea that bringing the other side to the table is either an inherent good, or will make generalized aspects of governing easier. Given the clubbiness of Congress, this could also be the “I don’t want anyone to feel awkward at Cokie Roberts’ next dinner party” position. We know from their recent history that the Republican Party doesn’t consider this one much of a value, hence Dick Cheney’s telling a Democratic Senator to “go [expletive deleted] himself.”

3) To make the legislation better – The Easter Bunny of political goals. Besides an impulse towards harmony as opposed to discord, I think this is at the heart of the desire for compromise on important pieces of legislation. Both in the media and Democratic leadership, there’s a tendency towards looking back wistfully at some hazy former day when both parties met, exchanged ideas, and shook hands over the improved bill. That carries over today into an attitude that posits the solution to national problems as being invariably found somewhere in the middle of what each party is advocating. Which is, of course, bunk.

With all there reasons for political compromise being either deeply flawed or fully broken, might it make sense for the Democratic Party to just quietly push away from the table and go about the business of governing mostly on their own?

The Nature of Political Compromise, and Bourbon

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