In politics today, compromise has become a synonym for weakness. Macho attitudes are standing in the way of progress.
“We conservatives, we do not accept bipartisanship in the pursuit of tyranny. We will not negotiate the terms of our economic and political servitude.”—Mark Levin
It’s no secret that politics has degraded into hopeless deadlock. The 112th Congress was, by some standards, the most divided since 1860 (and we know how that cluster worked out). In a manner similar to pirates, a powerful minority has taken control of the majority through fear and nihilism. “If I don’t get my way, then no one does” happens to be an effective policy position.
I would love to blame all of this on the Tea Party (seriously, I would love it). Their hyper-partisan ‘us or them’ rhetoric, their demands for ideological purity under threat of being primaried, their nihilistic brinkmanship politics. The list goes on, but I don’t think they are all of the problem.
I think machismo is part of what is poisoning politics. Rigid ideology and a refusal to compromise have become virtues. Some on the Right have even turned against Speaker Boehner (R-OH), because he stated that he wouldn’t risk a government shutdown in another debt ceiling fight. He’s being described as weak because of this move. That’s the kind of macho, all-or-nothing politics I’m talking about.
Boys are taught to “stand up” for themselves, to be strong, to squash emotions, and that training is hard to shake. That kind of stoicism can be hard to unlearn, but it translates easily into all parts of life. With that in mind, the Senate floor isn’t much different from a school playground; there are bullies, pushovers, nerds, and jocks. I want to discuss the bullies, though.
These young right-wing congressmen swaggering around are the bullies on the Capitol Hill playground. Their policy position seems to be, “I’ll just take my ball and go.” ‘Compromise’ and ‘being compromised’ have become conflated these days, and I believe that is in large part because no one wants to be seen as weak. Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act thirty-seven times (costing roughly $52m). The incoming Republican congressmen wanted to cast their symbolic votes, because it has become a point of honor to show how uncompromising you can be.
John Boehner is known for a propensity to tear up, and there’s no end to the ridicule on political blogs. Why? He’s past the age that it’s acceptable for a male to cry (that age, by the way, is about 15 minutes old). This is then combined with his perceived willingness to agree to fund the United States government (though, he’s started running back to obstinance). Pair those two together, and John Boehner is dubbed ‘weak’. To return to the playground conceit for a second, he’s the kid who’s afraid to go down the slide, so some bullies push him. Then, he goes down the slide a few more times, even though he’s no less terrified, to prove himself to the big kids. The slide in this metaphor is unyielding obstructionism.
Lately, John McCain has been receiving a similar treatment. He compromised on some minor issues, such as, funding the government and ending a war, so his critics demanded that his metaphorical head roll. How did he respond? He flew to Syria and did his best to snare the United States in another war; trading one war for another to show how manly his politics are.
Compromise is not weakness. What’s weak about actually getting something done?