In my earlier post, I had a little fun with the notion of a Slurpee Summit, but it does present a tough question to Republicans that will take control of the House. Did voters give the GOP a mandate for a complete reversal of direction, or did they deliver an ultimatum to the White House to start compromising with Republicans. Reading that mandate correctly will be the great challenge of the next few months, and for both parties, the stakes could not be higher for success and failure at reading it correctly.
With the election over, Republicans are arguing about whether they should address Democrats via compromise, or confrontation. Both have their places, but I have a different suggestion.
With the deficit and the debt ballooning, with the economy remaining in the tank, and with tough choices on the horizon, what Americans need more than anything is clarity about what those choices involve, about who is making them, and about who is avoiding them.
Sometimes clarity will mean confrontation.
Glenn distrusts the talk of “compromise,” and for good reason:
Often when Washington insiders talk “compromise,” they really mean engineering a situation where nobody really has to take a position, or responsibility. In those circumstances, clarity is better served by forcing positions into the open, even if doing so involves confrontation.
Often I will hear a heartfelt but utterly naive sentiment that people in Congress should learn to agree on helping the American people and stop arguing and wasting time. But if that was possible on matters of import, we wouldn’t need a Congress at all. Parliaments and Congresses exist to deal with the disagreements and either find common ground where possible or to take votes and let representative democracy work. We have Congress precisely for these debates, because otherwise we’d have them in the streets with guns and knives.
People honestly disagree on policy and political philosophy. Congress gives us a forum for confrontation and compromise. Representative democracy requires elected officials to be accountable for their votes in Congress, and clarity is an absolute necessity for that process to work. Passing 3,000-page bills doesn’t add to clarity, nor do back-room deals with opaque codicils for favored interests. As Glenn says, confrontation forces those issues out into the sunlight.
Speaking of which, Glenn has a good idea to reinforce that clarity:
During the Obamacare debacle, Democratic representatives and senators ran away from constituent meetings and town halls. The last thing they wanted to do was listen to their constituents.
By way of contrast, Republicans should engage constituents early and often, and — publicly — encourage Democrats to do the same.
The town hall meeting is a popular tactic, and one that Democrats will have trouble emulating. That alone would make it good politics, but there’s substance as well as tactics in support of this approach.
Democrats probably lost this midterm cycle in August 2009, not November 2010, when they began hiding from angry constituents. They stopped listening and denied voters the accountability they deserved. Three months later, Democrats lost two governorships they should have held in New Jersey, a blue state, and Virginia, which had been trending blue for the previous three years or more. Two months after that, a Republican won a Senate seat in Massachusetts for the first time since 1972. The electorate could barely wait to make Democrats pay for their arrogance as well as their radical agenda.
Voters also want to see Congress work, too, and there will be some areas where clarity and compromise can co-exist. For instance, it now appears that Obama is willing to extend all of the current tax rates for another year or two rather than dig in his heels on a tax hike on the highest bracket. Obama also signaled some flexibility on natural gas exploration, mainly to get back in the good graces of Pennsylvania voters. When it comes to spending, runaway regulation, “czars,” and ObamaCare, however, Republicans should provide confrontation instead of compromise in order to ensure that voters see the issues involved and understand exactly where interests lie.