The American media is rife with talk of the inability of the current Congress to work out compromises coupled with the dominance of ideology. The media moans that the public is dissatisfied with the Congress over this inability to compromise. In a nation where the familiar phase describing the work of Washington has been “compromise, compromise, compromise,’ since President James Madison uttered the comment [Rogers 2011], why now does the inability to compromise come with such strength and clarity?
This historic shift to ideology and away from compromise must mark a fundamental break in the American system. The public seems to expect compromise. The system has prided itself on achieving such compromise. Yet now, compromise eludes the players on all sides. This is significant, not just in failing to solve the current disastrous problems that beset America, but in the shift it marks in American political practice.
The polarization of the American people is fairly clear. For example, in voting Americans may have shifted to the more extreme positions. The CBS Evening News , citing the National Journal, provided some support for this concept by noting that the number of senators identifying themselves as “moderate” has declined from 60 in 1982, to 36 in 1994, to 9 in 2002, to one in 2011. Given the centrist view of the electorate, this marks a shift toward the poles indicative of a significant alteration of the political landscape.
At the same time it is indicative of a barrier to compromise being reached. Compromise may have its limits and it is possible the line in the sand has been reached and the sides are not in positions to compromise any longer.
Further evidence for a significant change is found in the language of the times. We have both a “Culture War” and a “Class War” going on with members of both sides using the terminology of war. In the words of von Clausewitz, “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means.” But those “means” imply conditions from a vicious clash to total victory and demolition of a side by another. It is not meant to imply a condition of compromise.
This was seen at the 1992 Republican Party Convention when Patrick Buchanan said that, "There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself” [Buchanan]. The notion of a great battle with significant consequences and cost is implied in statements like this.
The “Class War” rhetoric accomplishes the same. While denied by the Obama Admiration, the messages of the Administration and its supporters are decidedly one of “Class War” [Kinsley]. The Left’s support of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement involves the elements of a war. Street action and the blockade of business are war by the simple means of the Left. They are confrontational, not elements of peace.
If we look at the underlying pattern of this, we find that the nation has slowly shifted left since the 1932 election [see chart]. Decades are marked by strides forward to the left without corresponding strides right. A constantly shifting line heading left is bound to reach a point where compromise is no longer possible. That line exists and has been reached.
If you begin with the “New Deal,” take a break for World War II, you find the Warren Court decisions moving left, followed by the “Great Society” and its leftist programs. A period of adjustment is followed by the Sexual Revolution and the Abortion rulings, followed by a period of adjustment, then the Gay Rights Movement and changes followed by the socialist looking Obama Health Care Plan, clear statements of redistributionist policy goals by the Obama Administration [in spite of his denials of this, actions louder than words], and the socialist sounding “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
An example of this shift is the adjustment to gay marriage among Americans noted by the Gallup Poll . Their results show a continual slow increase in support for gay marriage among Americans. The push left is a slow pressure to accept the new directions for old values and beliefs. It forces those not shifting further away from the center. It is a continual step by step move away in the name of change.
That the media push this is illustrated by a Fargo Forum headline and story on the push to have gay marriage banned in the Minnesota state constitution [Associated Press 2011]. The sub-headline for the article proclaims “St. Cloud State study finds public’s attitude changing, but slowly.” Yet in the long column article that follows there is no mention of this being a trend at all. A poll found support for not banning gay marriage, but that change is not clearly established by the supporting article. The prominence of the headline to the non-reader/analyzer of the article is all that counts. Unless careful analyzed, the article supports the Left’s goal in the debate.
In terms of strategy suggestions, the most significant one to be made to the Right is to be incremental. The leftists have slowly moved America to the left by incrementally suggesting and implementing programs and policies when they get the chance. Senator Ted Kennedy pushed for health care reform for decades before the chance to implement them came. Take heed and push a piece at a time. The political correctness movement arose word by word and offended group by offended group. Become offended, seek its protection and find tiny cuts. A 1% cut is minimal in sound to everyone. Make them.
A problem may be that the demands of the Right are much more based in absolutes. Liberty, decency, and freedom are much more absolute in nature than paying for day care or buying prescription medicines. But many battles have been lost by allowing the slow implementation of leftist policies. The Right needs to adopt the same piecemeal approach. Rather than attack abortion, work on it in pieces. Find useless operations or outrages in spending in government programs over which opposition will be light. Close or restrict them. If the Justice Department gets national attention for waste by spending $16 per item for doughnuts, cut the budget for the Department by 1%. A news item of note coupled with a small change. If the Left cries that criminals will take over the country, let them take the heat of the mainstream press over $16 doughnuts.
A second alternative was proposed by Paul D. Weyrich to the Conservative Leadership Conference in 1999. His proposal was for the Christina Right to pull out of the Culture Wars, separate themselves by admitting defeat. I am reminded of the line Robert Graves gave Claudius in I, Claudius , “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.” Faced with a situation in which nothing can be done to solve, just let things go and the enemy forces will punish and destroy themselves.
On the other hand, the Left might recognize their role in reaching the line in the sand and pull back from their socialist agenda. They need to pull back to a position from which compromise is possible. Their endless demands need to be abandoned as unattainable without ripping apart the society in which they intend them to prosper. A society that makes all equal in their degradation and uselessness is no victory. If the talented are diminished by what sense does one expect the average person to make up the loss of those people’s ingenuity. If those average people were capable of producing the postmodern society’s wealth, required by Marx to stage the socialist move in the first place, then why do they need government help to survive the simplest demands of life?
As we evaluate the problem we face we find a traditional process of American government has changed. In the quest to answer why, the possibility that a barrier or line in the sand has been reached beyond which compromise is no longer possible. Given the growth in the importance of ideology and the use of “war” oriented terminology, a crisis is clearly marked as significance. Given the one sided march of the country, it behooves that group, the Left, to decide if ruin is worth their fight and goals. They might take a lesson from their fellow Communist Chinese. They found that socialist farming would mean ruin and began a massive capitalist program to change that situation. We now face such ruin. They turned to individualism based on the family to save them. They turned to capitalism to save them. There is a line in the sand.
Associated Press. 2011. Poll: More against ban on gay marriage. Fargo Forum (November 12): A6.
Buchanan, Patrick J. 1992. “1992 Republican National Convention Speech in Houston, Texas”, http://www.buchanan.org/pa-92-0817-rnc.html.
CBS Evening News. 2011. Congress by the Numbers. New York: CBS: (November 21).
Gallup, Inc. 2011. For First Time, Majority of Americans Favor Legal Gay Marriage. Online: http://www.gallup.com/poll/147662/first-time-majority-americans-favor-legal-gay-marriage.aspx
Graves, Robert. 1976. Quoted in Old King Log. I, Claudius. Video. London: BBC.
Kinsley, Michael. 2011. When Obama’s Music Stops, Class Warfare Starts. Bloomberg Views. Online. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-09/when-obama-s-music-stops-class-warfare-starts-michael-kinsley.html
Rogers, Kathleen. 2011. Seeking One Principled Person from Each Side of the Aisle. NJTODAY.net. Online. <http://njtoday.net/2010/09/16/seeking-one-principled-person-from-each-side-of-the-aisle/>
Weyrich, Paul M. 1999. Letter to Conservatives. Online. Washington: National Center for Public Policy research. http://www.nationalcenter.org/Weyrich299.html