the pragmatism of compromise

(a vintage post from a previous blog)

Since the end of that exhausting bit of political theater known as the fiscal showdown, there has been much ado about what the GOP should do next. Here’s what Rush Limbaugh had to say about the shutdown failure of the Republican party. RedState is calling for a “wholesale purge” of party leadership. Here’s a gem from none other than Pat Buchanan. The New York Times profiled a base that is disillusioned, with some elements angry that tea partiers in the house backed down.

On the other hand, John Boehner is probably quite giddy today, having solidified his hold on the Speakership. Mitch McConnel showed that he still holds considerable sway in the Senate, but now he must turn to appeasing Tea Party insurgents in his primary fight with Matt Bevin. The Minority Leader has also said that there will be no more linking the health care fight to the debt ceiling or government appropriation. Mona Charen at Townhall had this to say.

There seems to be genuine confusion as to what just happened and what the best way forward is. Was this a wholesale capitulation by weak leadership in the face of certain victory if we had just remained strong a little bit longer? Was it a largely ceremonial gesture that woke up the establishment with a stark reminder that there are still some pissed off tea partiers out there who want to take their government back? Or was an unmitigated disaster for a divided GOP that has completely forgotten what it means to function as the minority party in a democracy?

I think the GOP as a whole would be doing itself a favor to embrace the last option and consider what it means for the party moving forward. Here’s why:

1. First off, this

2. This.

3. And this.

The fact is, the GOP lost the referendum vote on the ACA (the 2012 Presidential election). In the long run, it’s a losing strategy for the GOP to be so obsessively focused on repealing this law. It was definitely a losing strategy to shut down the government with no strategy for pinning the blame on the other side. The GOP has lost the battle against Obamacare. It’s here to stay. And if you asked Mitt or Newt 10 years ago what they thought of the overall concept of Obamacare (private insurance exchanges linked to a subsidies and tax breaks) they might not have been too opposed. I believe that any unbiased observer has at least a 50/50 chance of concluding that it may actually do some good. The fact is, we just don’t know yet.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are a million other options that would have been preferable to Obamacare. There are lots of ideas in here. It is a good move for the GOP to remain opposed to the law and continue to fight it outside of Washington. That discussion can be had a later date. My point here is that the GOP has lost its soul to its obsession with Obamacare. Why not focus on more achievable goals like reforming entitlements and getting our long-term fiscal house in order (what happened to popular ideas like private accounts for social security, or pushing for the chained CPI?)? Immigration is another area in which both sides can come together to compromise and ease some of the dysfunction in Washington by passing a substantive law. Immigration is also a way that the GOP can return to being a big-tent party (as opposed to an ideologically pure one), as changing demographics in our country make so obvious. Food stamps is another area where Republicans could soften their stance and make some headway. There is so much to be said besides “no.”

Purists will resent everything I’ve said here. Many are calling for the party to double down on failure, to continue the war against Obama at all costs! The fact is, the defund fight was a huge disaster and the Republicans have lost. It’s unclear yet whether this will have an effect in 2014, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t. And no one wants the Republicans to lost the House. It probably dashed their hopes to retake the Senate. In the face of this huge failure though, we have calls for even more craziness. Even more harsh ideological opposition at all costs, even at the risk of damaging the credit of the United States, possibly costing us billions more a year in increased borrowing costs and badly damaging our reputation abroad (if you’re one of those who would argue that it was not a forgone conclusion that breaching the debt ceiling would not have been damaging to the US, I would only say this. Or that.)

This brings me to the last point I made above. The founders said that it is a hallmark of democracy that all sides are willing to compromise for the overall good of the nation. Overcoming regional faction is one of the reasons that the framers chose Our republican form of government is a messy one. But what the GOP needs to learn is that democracy is no place for ideological purity. Our history is full of bipartisan compromises that brought our country out of crisis after crisis. I think of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan, of LBJ and Ike, the great compromise of 1787…

So what does all this mean in practical terms? It can start with the budget negotiations between Paul Ryan and Patty Murray. Why not put the closing of some corporate tax loopholes on the table in return for the chained CPI in entitlement COLAs? Why not throw the democrats a bone, lead by conciliation instead of by crisis? Put immigration back on the table, because as Marco Rubio saw in the Senate, there is something to be gained there for Republicans. Putting a compromise on the table gives the leadership an opportunity to make the President look like he is the obstructionist, instead of vice versa.

The best thing the GOP can do is abandon its bid for ideological purity and learn what it means to be the loyal opposition. This is the only way the GOP can return itself to being a big-tent party worthy of Lincoln and Reagan.

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