How Can We Rid Democrats of Their Debilitating Compromise Fetish?

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How Can We Rid Democrats of Their Debilitating Compromise Fetish?

Three quotes from Joe Biden, the first from his kickoff speech in Philadelphia:

“Our principles must never be compromised, but compromise itself is not a dirty word.”

The second from a speech in mid-May:

“I just think there is a way, and the thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

The third from a fundraiser on Monday night:

We pick on Joe Biden quite a bit on this site, and will probably continue to do so since a Biden-Trump election would be dystopian as hell, but despite the appalling ignorance and historical blindness of these sentiments, Biden is not alone. I mean, he might be the most culpable, since he had a front-row seat to the rampant, relentless obstruction with which Republicans met the Obama presidency, long before Trump had entered the scene, as many Twitter users were quick to point out:

But he’s not alone. House leader Nancy Pelosi wants to compromise. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer constantly wants to compromise. There’s a pervasive compromise fetish among Democratic leadership across the board (as a rule, the more centrist you are, the more you love the idea of compromise), and it’s hard to know whether they actually believe this stuff—which would speak to an appalling ignorance—or whether they think it’s strategically the best move to seem like the party that’s willing to compromise…which would speak to an appalling ignorance.

I don’t want to go over the recent history of Republican obstructionism, because we already know the details. We already know about Obamacare—how they compromised the stuffing out of it, and still didn’t get any Republican votes. We already know about Merrick Garland. We already know that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner made obstruction their war cry the minute Obama took office. I mean, this Politico article, from 2010, is called “The GOP’s no-compromise pledge.” THAT’S WHAT IT’S CALLED.

To put things very simply, there are two possible outcomes for Democrats in Congress:

1. Don’t compromise, in which case Republicans will battle and demean you to the death with a wild, far-right fervor.

2. Compromise, in which case Republicans will battle and demean you to the death with a wild, far-right fervor, right after they take your free gift.

Is it too uncomfortable for liberals to believe that Republicans are just an enemy? Is it too much against the wonderful myth of “coming together,” of bipartisanship? Is it too hard to commit to ideological warfare when you have to interact with the other side every day, and some of them are probably pretty nice and even fun in person?

I don’t know. All I know is the reality, which can be summed up broadly—Republican intransigence will further climate change, inequality, lack of healthcare, etc.—or even in simple moments, like the fact that they called Obama a “socialist,” or that Mike Pence is already calling Joe Biden a socialist, even though both of these claims are laughable.

There is no give among elected Republicans. None. To not get that, at this point, is mind-boggling.

But let’s quickly investigate the other possibility—that Democrats know, but are trying to be the adults in the room because they think there’s some kind of reward for the appearance of flexibility. This is the same wrong-headed impulse that makes people like Pelosi afraid to impeach.

Ask yourself a question: How have Republicans fared since their “total obstruction” strategy took root? (Keep in mind that they’re constantly fighting to make life better for the wealthy people in America, at the expense of everyone else, and that there are a lot more poor or middle-class people than rich people.) The answer? They’ve done great! They’ve steamrolled Democrats on the national, state, and local levels, controlling both houses of Congress for the longest time, along with the majority of governor seats and state houses. And in the meantime, they’ve packed just about every court in the land. They took a setback in the last midterms, losing the House and several states, but that’s mostly because of a reaction against Trump. During the height of their obstruction, and going back even further to when they impeached Bill Clinton, it cost them nothing and even seemed to reap rewards.

What the Democrats should do is fight, and while they’re fighting, they should be drawing the battle lines in clear terms for the American public and making explicit exactly how Republican lawmakers are making our lives worse every day. Instead, people like Biden and Pelosi and Schumer are stuck in a compromise loop, convinced that the better angels of their Republican counterparts simply must emerge, if only they try hard enough, or that, at worst, they’ll get credit from Americans for turning the other cheek over and over and over and over.

That’s not how this works. Bipartisanship is functionally dead on the right, and the situation in this country—particularly accounting for inequality and climate change—is so dire that the only path to a better future is one that entails total defeat for anyone standing in the way of real progress. Washington Republicans are in the way. They’ve been there for years, they don’t care if you know it, and there’s nothing they love more than Democrats who can’t shake themselves awake from the fever dream of compromise.

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