"Do or Do not. There is no try."

Why The Tea Party Should Stop Fearing Compromise

Among tea party voters, there is a belief that the right is always getting sold out  by the political establishment. In their telling, Reagan-era conservatives agreed to an amnesty for illegal immigrants on the condition that the law  would be enforced going forward, then deeply regretted having done so.  George H.W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge. The  Contract with America failed to deliver on many of its promises. George  W. Bush joined forces with Ted Kennedy on No Child Left Behind, changed  positions on campaign finance reform, and closed out his presidency by  bailing out undeserving Wall Street firms. In all this, he was abetted  by GOP legislators.

These tea party voters  are sometimes justified in feeling betrayed. Other times, they misinterpret what happened. Right or wrong, however, they’re powerfully averse to compromise. Mere mention of the word aggrieves them. They  don’t think of it as a means of bringing about a mutually beneficial  change in the status quo, where one of their priorities is addressed in return for giving up something on an issue they care less about. When  they hear the word compromise, the knee-jerk reaction is to oppose it.  In their experience, going along with compromise is tantamount to  getting screwed. The insistence that pols “stand on principle” is a  defense mechanism.

This attitude helps explain why tea partiers  are so frequently attracted to relatively inexperienced politicians like Sarah Palin, Marco Rubio, and Michele Bachmann. More experienced pols  have been forced to compromise as the price of achieving something, just as a President Palin, Rubio or Bachmann would be forced to compromise  in order to pass the parts of their agenda most important to them. Having  gotten so little of substance done in their careers, however, they haven’t yet had to give up anything significant, so they can maintain the fiction that they never would. As Daniel Larison puts it, “Bachmann’s lack of  achievements is in some ways a blessing for her, because it is proof  that she has never compromised. In today’s GOP, that is very valuable,  and she doesn’t have many competitors in the race who can say the same.”

The tea party movement should know better. The Founding Fathers engaged in an endless series of compromises. Abraham Lincoln  compromised. Franklin D. Roosevelt compromised. So did Ronald Reagan. Every consequential leader in the history of the United  States has had to compromise.

It defies common sense to think the next  Republican president will be different. So why are tea party voters asking  themselves, “Which of these presidential candidates is least  likely to compromise?” They ought to be pondering different questions, such as: “What  style of negotiation and compromise does this candidate employ? How much have they  gotten in the past for what they gave up?”

“Do the issues they’ve treated as most important align with my priorities?”

Viewed in  that light, Mitch Daniels’ talk of a truce on social issues in order to  focus on the budget deficit should’ve appealed to a large faction of tea partiers. He laid out his  priorities. They aligned perfectly with tea party rhetoric: it is a movement focused on economic issues and individual liberty far more than social conservatism if you trust what its typical adherents themselves assert. But even tea partiers who  shared Daniels’ priorities didn’t like that he talked of compromise.

They got self-righteous about it.

Tea partiers would be better off accepting that every politician cares about some things  more than others, that there is no such thing as successfully governing America as an uncompromising social, economic and national security conservative, and that pretending otherwise results in choosing candidates who are  marginally less likely to choose the best compromises.

Another way to put this is that if tea party voters were  less naive about the centrality of compromise to politics — and more  willing to believe that a principled person can compromise — they’d  feel  less victimized by an unchangeable fact of democracy. They’d also be  more frequently empowered to bring about  policy outcomes that better align with what they care about most.


By: Conor Friedersdorf, Associate Editor, The Atlantic, July 15, 2011

July 16, 2011 - Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Liberty, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , ,

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