I usually don’t wade into political waters for several reasons, and I am not going to make it a habit, but this issue resonates with me and hence this post.
Post-election results we are getting a load of concession and victor speeches, and all of them, to varying degrees, speak to the need for greater bi-partisanship and reaching across the aisle. For instance, I saw Emily Cain’s concession speech on Twitter, in which she says:
Last night we experienced a national wage of frustration with a Congress that has refused to come to the table to solve problems, and people are right to be upset. I hope that Washington listens to the message that was sent and puts aside partisanship and politics and starts putting people first.
Listening to the election results last night, I heard similar things from Susan Collins, Jeanne Shaheen, and numerous others saying basically the same thing; voters want Washington to work together.
Sure enough, the past four years have been met with gridlock. But should we be surprised; and more importantly, is the past four years antithetical to want voters wanted in 2010? Well, not really. From a recent WSJ piece:
In October 2010, a month before the election in which Republicans gained an historic number of seats in the House and regained control of the chamber, about a third of voters said they would prefer candidates willing to compromise. Nearly twice as many voters—57%—said they wanted candidates who would stick to their positions.
Now, that trend has reversed, and voters today want more compromise. Of course, as the comments of Cain and others suggest, this reversal will be lauded. But should it? Should compromise and the resulting centrist policies be heralded, particularly as it pertains to economic policies?
In early 2013, Ed Kilgore noted that such compromises might be politically desirable, but practically problematic:
A fiscal compromise between these two points of view that just “splits the differences”—i.e., the type that can be produced by Washington pols cutting deals across party lines—will not only be messy and offensive to ideologues and the two parties’ “bases” and interest groups, but will also be incoherent and internally self-cancelling to a degree that it may not solve any problem other than the most recent impasse in Congress.
But what if liberals are right and the real problem with the economy is a dearth of aggregate demand? What if conservatives are right and the real problem is the perpetuation of the twentieth-century welfare state and regulation of “job-creators?” Compromises that pull in opposite directions on the basic diagnosis of what is wrong with the economy—particularly the preferred Beltway Fiscal Hawk “consensus” of adopting both sharp spending reductions and tax increases—are very likely to damage and reverse our fragile economic recovery more than all the “uncertainty” in the world.
So fine, talk across party lines all you want. Some sort of impure compromises between irreconcilable points of view to keep the government functioning may well be inevitable. But let’s don’t pretend there are obvious “solutions” that fair-minded people would instantly adopt if not for the equal blindness of partisans on both sides. And those who doesn’t understand that problem shouldn’t be self-righteously posing as the only problem-solvers in the room.
So did voters in 2010 have it right? Are 2014 voters missing the boat? I’m not going to say anything to that but this; while people might want more civility in their politics, we need to not conflate civility and bi-partisanship with good policies.