No Compromise?

What will the nation’s politics look like if, as expected, the Republicans take back the House of Representatives on November 2? Indiana’s Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, issues a warning and a prediction. “There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare,” he said. “There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes. And if I haven’t been clear enough yet, let me say again: No compromise.”

Statements like this have led to speculation that in addition to launching a series of dubious congressional investigations designed to tie up the Obama administration in endless hearings, Republicans are also likely to shut down the federal government in a budgetary showdown with the president. There is even talk of impeachment. President Barack Obama is, after all, the head of a “tyrannical government” that is depriving Americans of their constitutional freedoms. Or so a number of Republican candidates, such as Sharron Angle running for the Senate in Nevada and Allen West, a GOP candidate for the House in Florida, have suggested.

Alas, we’ve seen this movie before, during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Pence and others in his party seem eager to replay the obsessive Republican effort to delegitimize any Democratic president. That earlier political psychodrama ended in failure for Clinton’s antagonists, but put the country through a period of bitter partisanship, leaving millions of voters alienated from a political culture that seems incapable of coming to terms with the nation’s deepening economic and social problems.

If anything, the ideological zeal on the right seems more intense now. It is reflected in incendiary statements like Pence’s, as well as in the views of dozens of frankly antigovernment candidates running under the Republican mantle this year. The contempt for compromise—which seems little more than contempt for the democratic process itself—is also reflected in the efforts of prolife leaders to purge the movement of its once-prized prolife Democrats. What unpardonable sin have these Democrats committed? Answer: They voted for the health-care-reform bill. Yet no one can question the prolife credentials of representatives such as Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth (now running for the Senate) of Indiana or Ohio’s Charlie Wilson. In the past, all received high ratings from the National Right to Life Committee for their congressional voting records. Now, however, the Susan B. Anthony List, an important prolife funding group, is spending hundreds of thousands dollars to defeat them and the handful of other prolife Democrats who concluded that the health-care bill would not expand federal funding for elective abortions. Yes, there is sharp disagreement about the safeguards against abortion funding in the law. These Democrats, like the Catholic Health Association and other prolife groups, found sound reasons to support the bill. As of this date, their detractors have not offered convincing evidence that the law will expand abortion funding, yet they continue to issue statements saying it does. Evidently, the current political polarization does not allow for an honest disagreement, even among those who have worked together for years to advance the prolife cause. Yet purging the prolife movement of Democrats will only solidify that party’s uncompromising abortion-rights stance, making it less likely that any real progress will be made toward chang- ing abortion law and practice. The actions of the Susan B. Anthony List and NRLC reinforce the suspicions of millions of Americans—most of whom genuinely want to find a way to reduce the incidence of abortion—that the issue is being exploited for partisan purposes.

It is disheartening, to say the least, to hear one Republican leader after another proudly recite the “no compromise” catechism, while repeating the disingenuous demand to cut taxes and balance the budget. Obama, of course, made moving beyond partisan gridlock a central theme of his campaign for the presidency. In addition to the ongoing economic crisis, it is safe to assume that Obama’s failure to deliver on the promise of greater political comity has contributed to the widespread voter dissatisfaction that threatens to turn his party out of power in Congress. It is also fair to say that the president and the Democrats have failed to persuade voters that their legislative agenda is better than the vague alternatives offered by the Republicans. Whatever the outcome of the election, however, this much is certain: Without compromise on the part of both parties, the deficit and the debt will continue to rise, health care will only become more expensive and less available, the economy will remain stagnant, and the esteem of a self-governing people for its own government will continue to erode.

Related: Episcopal Oversight, by Timothy Stoltzfus Jost
Prolife, Yes, and Pro-reform, by the Editors
The Limits of Authority, by Richard R. Gaillardetz; Extreme Makeover, by E. J. Dionne Jr.

Published in the 2010-11-05 issue: 

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