Whereas the two major political parties in the U.S. used to have different agendas with reality as a common reference point, they’re now moving toward different realities, with nothing as a common reference point. This tendency may be with us for some time, given current deployments in communications technology, and it will eventually make democratic governance impossible. To avoid that, we must reclaim the virtues of compromise and pluralism. I’d go so far as to say that compromise is the first precondition of democracy. Any political party that rejects compromise as broadly as John Boehner seemed to do in the famous December 2010 interview on 60 Minutes betrays a preference for fascism – i.e., my party is right, all other parties are wrong, all compromise is unethical, and we will bring all our power to bear accordingly. In today’s Congress, Republicans are far and away the most intransigent in their scorn for compromise (and Boehner is by no means the worst offender). Perhaps Republicans rightly fear that part of their base that has become so rabid that the slightest gesture across the aisle can derail a re-election. So they go against President Obama on even obvious things like the START treaty renewal. So Mitt Romney says he would not agree to a deficit reduction deal that rolls back upper tier tax cuts, even if Democrats were to offer $10 in reduced spending for every $1 in new tax revenue. This kind of inflexibility does not bode well for those who would govern. But read on for some measure of criticism of my liberal allies.
My keynote, again, is that for democracy to function at all, you need different groups to come to the table and compromise and implement policies. When you leave the table, the objective is NOT to win everyone over to your side and curse everyone who still disagrees. You want everyone to have a clearer understanding of a plurality of positions, to have figured out ways of compromising and moving forward, and to leave still holding a plurality of viewpoints that can be brought to bear on the next problem. A table with diversified points of view is likelier in the long run to generate more lasting, more generally acceptable, and more creative policy decisions. But a spirit of compromise is prerequisite.
Now to critique my liberal brethren. Although in the public sphere of DC today, Democrats are more willing than Republicans to accept the value of compromise and pluralism, in the private sphere of late night discussions in kitchens and bars, the culprits are more evenly divided. Many of my liberal friends have that little fascist streak that says, “I’m right, the conservatives in this discussion are wrong, and at the end of the day I need to convince them or write them off as idiots.” To them also I say that if you want a healthy body politic, you’d better recognize that you debate politics with friends not always to win them over but to refine various political orientations that can be brought to bear later. If everyone leaves the table with your opinion, the discussion was only superficially a success. You want plural views to prosper, although you want them to evolve and become more refined through the dialectic.