Of all the lies that drive the modern Republican party, perhaps the most easily revealed, and yet the most virulent, is the notion that all compromise is an unpatriotic form of surrender.
In debate after debate, the most ideologically “pure” members of the GOP in our government reject compromise. They refuse to be tainted by the notion of having honestly engaged with their opponents’ ideas, because their extremism is more important to them than governing. Claiming to be driven by patriotism, they ignore the fact that our Constitution, and democracy itself, require compromise.
When less extreme Republicans attempt to negotiate, compromise, engage in honest debate, or actually govern, they are labeled as ideologically weak, just for doing the job they were elected to do. They are branded as Republicans-In-Name-Only, and attacked by their own party’s base. Paradoxically, these officials are thereby compelled to neglect their responsibilities just to stay in office. In this way, the unreasoning anti-government extremism that has hijacked the modern Republican party is a threat to democracy and the American way of life.
Our Founding Fathers designed our government to work a bit like two people driving a car, with one holding the steering wheel while the other works the gas and the brakes. Periodically, they pull over to trade jobs or even let one person take over both. When both sides negotiate and choose a route, at least in the short-term, this system can work fine, and prevents anyone from taking the car too far one direction or the other.
Under a totalitarian government, a single dictator would drive, taking the passengers anywhere he wished, but the Framers of the Constitution wanted this necessary system of checks and balances, to prevent tyranny and bad governance.
The drivers can even debate how well the car works and make decisions that way. One can say, “I don’t think this car is good for off-roading,” and the other can say, “I think it can go off-road fine.” If one tries to steer the car off-road, the other can refuse to take their foot off the brake until both sides agree on the direction.
However, when one side decides the car should not exist, or that it should be stripped down to a bicycle, it stops working. It can’t work if, whenever that side has control, they just slam on the brakes or steer the car into the guard rail. That is exactly what the Republicans do.
The Democrats may often want to steer in the wrong direction, but at least they spend less time trying to sabotage the car. In order to hide their malfeasance, Republicans constantly scream, “This car is a piece of junk,” yelling all the louder about trouble when they cause it themselves.
The car metaphor is not totally original, and like all metaphors, it breaks down if applied to everything. A more accurate model might be one person at the wheel (the President), and 535 people (Congress) controlling the gas and brakes, with 9 backseat drivers (the Supreme Court) holding an emergency brake but not using it nearly as often, with just about everyone involved picking one of two sides to guide their driving decisions. They are theoretically beholden to millions of passengers. Still, the point remains. Those in charge of the car have to work together, to negotiate, or no one gets anywhere at all.
The Republican party acts as if scorning compromise is somehow patriotic, rather than an unpatriotic refusal to share power, but even a basic understanding of the Constitution reveals this as a lie.
There is an old phrase, used as a joke, to describe someone doing something for which they are not suited. The phrase is that such a person is like a fish riding a bicycle. When President George W. Bush appointed John Bolton—a man who had publicly described the very act of diplomacy as a sign of weakness, a neoconservative who had questioned the very existence of the United Nations—as Ambassador to the United Nations, the satirical newspaper The Onion had different spin on the old joke. It said it was not only “like appointing a fish to ride a bicycle”, but a fish trying to ride a bicycle that it “hates and wishes to destroy.”
At this point, electing any non-Moderate Republican to a position in the federal government is roughly the same thing.
Unfortunately, the moderates are disappearing. Just to get through a primary, an extreme Conservative has to pass a litmus test of ideology, proving that they share the anti-government sentiments of the farthest right members of their party. They also have to cater to social Conservatives, which puts them in the contradictory position of saying government should keep its hands out of just about everything… except warfare, sexuality and reproduction. By the time they have made it to Washington, their personal views are no long relevant. They have pledged to an orthodoxy. Should they break from it, there will be an even more extremist challenger waiting in the wings, to fight them when they seek reelection. Such challengers are always mysteriously well-funded.
There is a reason why these figures always find shadowy financial support, and always reliably vote for the interests of large corporations. The less government does for you, the more you are forced to turn to Big Business, who will charge you to do the same thing at the most profitable rate they can manage, regardless of whether your income is high enough or not. It is not the little guy, or the vaunted “private individual”, or allegedly small business, who stands to benefit most from disassembling the federal government. It is the largest corporations, the ones who can attempt to approach the scale of the shrinking government, who will truly profit from your lack of options.
So, while reducing government to the point where it can be “drowned in a bathtub” benefits billionaires and tax-dodging corporations, it actually makes the rest of us less powerful and more dependent. By refusing to compromise, Conservative extremists are annihilating the American form of government piece-by-piece, which fits the real agenda of the big financial supporters behind false grass-roots movements like the Tea Party. They seek to leave the citizens of a country made free by revolution and emancipation unprotected by their government, so it can enslave them to a wealthy aristocracy.
With one side furthering this agenda by endlessly decrying our government as a malign failure—insisting it is inherently bad and must be, at least partially, dismantled, as discussed in a previous Republican Lies Revealed column—it has repositioned the other side as well. In a two-party system, a major party’s unwillingness to accept any position that government can do anything well leaves their opposition (not just the Democrats, in this particular case, but also most people in the political middle) with no choice but how much, or how little, they will give in to this agenda of anti-government extremism.
The American people recognize the necessity of finding middle ground, even if their leaders don’t. A recent Gallup poll asking what people disliked most about both parties revealed that 21 percent of Americans think the GOP’s unwillingness to negotiate is its biggest problem. Even among Republicans, this disapproval of the current extremist philosophy controlling congress is high, with 26 percent saying the Republican Party’s worst trait is that it is “Inflexible/Unwilling to compromise.”
Compromise is not surrender. Compromise is actually necessary in a free society. Negotiation between democratically elected representatives is the system of government our Founding Fathers intended, to keep any one faction from enacting tyranny over the rest of us. For today’s leading Conservatives, tyranny by the very wealthy is the only form of government they will tolerate, which is why they refuse to compromise at every turn. They are, at best, ignorant, and at worse complicitly aware that this obstructionism erodes individual freedom rather than preserving it. Whether they admit it or not, extremes Conservatives seek nothing less than the destruction of America.
Republican Lies Revealed – Compromise is Unpatriotic is the third in a series of opinion articles seeking to examine and debunk dishonesty in the modern Republican Party.
By Jeremy Forbing
Photo By: Gage Skidmore