Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"A Bellicose and Uncompromising Strategy"

A continuing source of frustration to me, as to many Americans, is the seeming inability of Congress to accomplish much of anything of any importance to real people like you and I. An interesting article in the July 21st issue of The Los Angeles Times titled "Democrats Take Uncompromising Stance" analyzed the ongoing paralysis in Congress, specifically as it applies to Democratic lawmakers' attempts to force votes on the conduct of the Iraq war in the face of Republican opposition. The article used the terms "bellicose and uncompromising" to describe the Democrats' legislative strategy, and noted that "Democrats will work with any GOP lawmaker willing to vote for a mandatory troop withdrawal; other Republicans need not apply."

Now, you might think from the above brief discussion that my sympathies lie with poor, noble Republicans suffering under endless assaults from their opponents. This would be wrong in the extreme.

The article goes on to note that the Democrats are "...enraged by years of being brushed off and belittled by the White House...", and this is perfectly true. The Republicans have for years ignored the Democrats and questioned their patriotism, integrity and intelligence, and now the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Of course, this is precisely what happened to Republicans when the Democrats were in power during the Clinton years, so I think it's pretty difficult for either side to complain about the actions of the other.

This is, of course, bad for the nation and the world. I have written many times in this space about the importance of principled compromise in making government - and life in general - work. Progress occurs when people of good will sit down, explore their agreements and differences, and work forward from agreement on small things to compromise on major ones. Unfortunately, we have developed an utterly poisonous political culture in which compromise is viewed as traitorous and it's not important just to win, but to leave a smoking, wreckage-strewn crater where one's opponent used to be. Winning is less important than making sure the other side loses in the biggest and most humiliating fashion possible.

Congress seems to be peopled with 535 George Pattons and no Henry Clays. For those of you unfamiliar with these names, George Patton was the hard-driving general who led American armies in World War II and was famous for his vulgar and bellicose personality. Henry Clay, on the other hand, was a 19th century American legislator who was known as "The Great Compromiser" for his ablity to forge satisfactory agreements among squabbling competitors.

The nation suffers from an imperial presidency, a crumbling infrastructure, a health care crisis, and a plummeting international reputation. The world suffers from the threats of AIDS, pollution, nuclear proliferation, and violent Islamic extremism. Until the Henry Clays outnumber the George Pattons, our Congress will continue to be an ineffective laughingstock, unable to accomplish anything more in the face of these difficult challenges than the generation of useless sound bites and ongoing paralysis.

Think about that the next time you vote, or listen to the presidential candidates debate. Ask your senators, your representatives, and your desired presidential contender what compromises they are willing to make to make the nation great again.

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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