Friday, September 9, 2011

The Obama Jobs Plan: Last Stop for Compromise

I must say that I was intrigued by the strategy behind the jobs plan that the President unveiled in his speech last night. I can’t exactly say that I was inspired or impressed, though. I don’t think it’s the strategy that I’d have liked to see, but it is a strategy, and a proactive one, and that’s saying something. I listened to the speech on NPR, and the broadcasters who covered it seemed to have a fair sense of what was coming before the President took the podium. There was some alternative speculation about how the bill would be structured, but the dominant theory seemed to be that it would consist entirely of initiatives that had been supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the past. That turned out to be exactly the case, the strategy being to present something that could not possibly meet with partisan opposition unless the Republican Party was prepared to explain why it had changed its view on a series of positions it had formerly supported.

It’s a clever approach, and it may succeed in its goal, but there are two serious questions in my mind: is that goal ambitious enough, and what if it doesn’t succeed? I admire the effort and sacrifice that must have gone into identifying and advancing all of the points of demonstrated overlap between Republican and Democratic policies on jobs and the economy. But as far as I’m concerned, the main reason why there is so little progress in American politics today is that the Republican Party has an uncompromising political will while the Democrats have an obsession with compromise at the expense of any will whatsoever.

I value compromise myself. I’m not so naïve and egotistical that I think I think government policy and the future of America can be built according to my own narrow vision. I am a firm believer in incremental change, and I know that the very process of positive change sometimes requires a great deal of patience and a lot of frustration. Yet, in a situation where the most regressive elements of public policy provide an unmovable defense against even the most modest applications of liberal ideas, I don’t want more compromise. I want a stronger offense. I want a reason to believe that liberal ideas aren’t dying because all political resources are being directed to efforts at obtaining cooperation with people who see any Congressional action whatsoever as an unacceptable political defeat.

It seems to me that that is what the president and much of the Democratic Party have been doing. I fear that they are losing sight of the dividing line between compromise and capitulation. In fact, I think both parties lost sight of that line a long time ago. The clearest ideological difference between the two is that Republicans believe that giving up anything is capitulation, while Democrats think that giving up everything is compromise.

And what if the Republican Congress doesn’t pass a plan consisting entirely of initiatives formerly supported by both parties? What will be the new strategy, the next step towards gaining their cooperation? Introducing a jobs bill comprised entirely of initiatives supported only by Republicans? The current strategy absolutely has to be successful. But if it is, I hope that Democrats understand that there is nowhere left to go in the interest of establishing a common vision. They have already gone well past the center of the aisle, and it would make no sense to reach any farther without simply joining the Republican Party. Instead of that, if this strategy of asking the wall to move fails yet again, perhaps it will finally come time for the Democratic Party to regroup and begin assembling the machinery to tear through that wall. Perhaps then they will at least try to stand up for underrepresented liberal ideals. That may bear with it the risk of making little progress, but the Republican strategy has already guaranteed that, and no one seems to worry about the political consequences of that. If it’s impossible for anyone to take the right action, I’d at least like the right ideas to be in the public record.

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