Culture War Dispatches

from a Progressive People's Republic

Monday, January 14, 2008

Getting Beyond Politics

My friend (and editor-in-chief of the leading newspaper south of Shelburne and north of North Ferrisburg) commented that it was weird to think that I had left my liberal Democrat past to join what she called the “far right.” She was from the center, she said; she thought it was important to find some middle ground in this country or we’d be in big trouble. I prefer “neo-conservative intellectual” to “far right-wing nut job,” but never mind.

The call for a middle way has been made by several candidates for the Presidency, notably Barack Obama on the Democrat side and Mike Huckabee on the Republican. It is increasingly difficult to have a civil political discussion in this country. Mention at a dinner party in Cambridge, Massachusetts that you might vote for Rudy, or that you’re skeptical about Al Gore’s global warming alarmism and you might think you had been describing your interest in child pornography.

It is therefore appealing to imagine that compromise, bipartisanship and a centrist point of view will lead to more positive discussion and an end to “legislative logjams.” We need to “put ideological differences behind us” and “get beyond politics as usual.”

Certainly we can agree to avoid to rudeness of’s ad calling Four Star General David Petreus a traitor (“David Betray-us”). And the corresponding rude behavior on the far right… well, nothing comes to mind at the moment, but I’m sure letter-writers from the left side of the aisle can make suggestions. Respectfully disagreeing with our opponents is better than demonizing them, but is there really a substantive middle ground on the essential issues of the day?

For instance, if one side wants to pull American troops out of Iraq and the other side wants them to stay indefinitely, where is the middle ground? Taking a numerical average between zero and infinity is difficult.

One side believes that tax cuts favor the rich, that we need to raise taxes on the wealthy to give the less fortunate members of society a helping hand; the other believes that tax cuts stimulate the economy and benefit everyone. A compromise that rescinds part of the Bush tax cuts will satisfy neither side.

One side believes that immigrants deserve a shot at a better life; the other side believes that people who enter the country illegally have broken the law and should not be provided taxpayer funded services. Do we compromise by building only half of a border fence?

One side believes that global warming warrants the creation of a global legislative mechanism to control greenhouse gas emissions; the other believes that global warming is neither catastrophic nor man-made and that market forces should guide the creation of new energy sources. There’s no middle ground when a chasm separates the two sides.

One side believes that abortion is murder, the other believes it’s a woman’s right to choose. Any change in the current laws will be seen by abortion advocates as taking away their rights and the most implacable abortion opponents will argue that any abortion is murder.

It is possible of course to reach legislative compromise. The federal budget is always a compromise. Judicial appointments are often a compromise between what the executive will tolerate and the legislature will confirm. Immigration reform might punish illegal immigrants with criminal records but offer hard-working immigrants a “path to citizenship.”

But compromise involves ceding ground. A secondary definition of compromise is, “the acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable.” It may be necessary to reach a solution, to break up that logjam, to “make things happen.” But compromise is not necessarily a positive thing. Passing a new law just to make things happen is good only if the law is sensible. It’s not like there’s any shortage of laws.

Jonah Goldberg’s new book describes “a “’Third Way’ between right and left where all good things go together and all hard choices are ‘false choices.’” This view itself, according to Goldberg, is an essentially liberal view; conservatives accept that there are hard choices to make and see the call for consensus as a call to shut down the debate. Too often when people advocate consensus, they expect that the other side will come over to their obviously superior side.

Personally, I enjoy the debate. Obviously I think my conservative positions are superior to the arguments of liberals, but I don’t want to shut liberals up. Monday morning without James Carroll’s moonbat columns in the Boston Globe just wouldn’t be as much fun.