Friday, July 25, 2014

Caught in a Compromising Position

I read today about a recent Gallup poll that got some interesting results:
Americans also favor governance by those who "think it is more important to compromise to get things done" (63%) over those who "think it is more important to hold firm to their principles" (56%) -- although the overlap between the figures shows that some Americans view both types of leaders favorably.
Well, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if many Americans view both types of leaders favorably.  I've seen people flipflop on principle and compromise within a few minutes:
An old friend linked to a rant by a Methodist minister somewhere, and added his own layer of froth to it:
This is EXACTLY right. So much bull shit propaganda is speed out to the public as "facts". These are the real facts. The moderate - and trainable - on both sides need to come together to permanently oust these tea party legislative terrorists. It's time to take back our country with reason and compromise. These are NOT bad words and what WILL get our government working again.
"Moderate" is a "bad word," in my opinion, for reasons I've given before.  "Trainable" is even worse.  Just off the bat, who's going to do the training?  Our government wasn't founded to "train" us, or our elected representatives.  "Reason" is an okay word, but there's no reason in my friend's words.  "Compromise" is a bad word, since in practice what it has meant during the Obama administration is that the Republicans have been handed much of what they want, and are thereby emboldened to demand the rest of it later.  And it's hilarious of my friend (and he's far from alone among pious Democrats) to demand compromise, when both sides here are refusing to compromise.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, because there are times when one must not give in.  Obama and the Democrats have decided not to compromise any further on the Affordable Care Act.  Their supporters agree that they shouldn't.  So this time, right now, compromise is a bad word.

After a few snarling comments between us, my friend wrote exactly that: "There is no compromising on this issue," he wrote. Wait a minute, didn't you just demand compromise a few minutes ago?  Compromise isn't a bad word, and all that?  It's convenient, if not exactly gratifying, to have such a blatant textbook example of doublethink in action.
During the debt-ceiling battles and the government shutdown, many people in the media and outside it indulged in easy false equivalence, blaming both parties for refusing to compromise.  When deals were finally made, Democrats celebrated what later became known as the Sequester -- until it took effect.  Then they howled about the damage it was doing; including the guy behind it, our Collaborator in Chief himself.  So why shouldn't people hold both positions, demanding principle and compromise at the same time?  What matters in American political discourse is cheering for your team, chanting the right slogans, ignoring facts in favor of waving your colors.

Sometimes compromise is the right choice.  Sometimes it's not.  There's no rule that can decide which is right in advance.  Wanting there to be one is one strategy of what the philosopher Walter Kaufmann called "decidophobia," the fear of making fateful decisions.  Not too surprisingly, his call for autonomy and taking responsibility for one's decisions never caught on.