Monday, March 9, 2015

The Liberal "Compromise" Chimera

What do people mean when they decry the "partisanship" in Washington and call for compromise?

They mean, of course, that Republicans should compromise with Democrats. They mean that, when Democrats propose an Obamacare, that Republicans should climb on board. They mean that, when Democrats propose gay marriage, Republicans should not object. They mean that old white men should not stand athwart history, shouting Stop!

What they mean is that they are troubled that the foundations are shaking and they wish the troublemakers would shut up. What they mean is that they know that things are screwed up but they don't really want to face up to the changes that will be needed.

These are people that believe in individual responsibility but then complain about greedy bankers and insurance company profits. Hey! If you don't like greedy bankers then put your money in a money market mutual fund. If you don't like insurance companies then go for Seattle's Group Health or Kaiser Permanente. This isn't hard.

And there's a bigger issue. If you believe in compromise then you cannot believe in big government. Government is force, politics is division. The point of passing a big-government program is that the people, through their representatives, tax business or the rich or that fellow behind the tree to give themselves benefits. It's a squeeze play. The idea is to make some other guy pay for your free stuff. The only compromise, according to the settled science in Buchanan and Tullock in The Calculus of Consent, is the deal-making to get the votes of the guys on the fence. Since fence-sitters and their constituents aren't going to benefit from the new free stuff, you have to give them something to compensate them for their loss.

Even the government's legal system is an enemy of compromise. True compromise would be to settle your differences, man to man, before going to the government for justice. The point about a suit at law is that each side presents their best case, looking at the issue from their side only, and then the judge makes a binding decision on both the parties. This is not compromise. It is two opposed parties that can't see each other's point of view going to a third party and saying: "look, we can't figure this out on our own: you figure it out and tell us what to do."

Look I get it. I understand the frustrations of good loyal liberals. They must feel, instinctively even if they don't admit it to themselves, that things are going wrong with the liberal project. Nobody thought back in 1970 that the obvious decision to legalize abortion would face a generational pushback. Nobody thought that women would oppose the Equal Rights Amendment. Nobody thought that the sensible and progressive programs of the Great Society would smash the black family (and the low-income white family) to smithereens. Nobody thought that the sensible and anti-racist "affordable housing" programs would blow up the financial system in 2008.

In fact, most liberals can't even begin to admit any of these problems to themselves, let alone talk about it with their liberal friends, let alone admitting it in The New York Times, let alone talking confidentially about it on NPR, let alone compromising anything in the public square. That's why the sufferings of African Americans have to be caused by racism or inequality. That's why the crash of 2008 was caused by greedy bankers. That's why the mess in health care is caused by the drive for insurance company profits. That's why liberals try to raise up generation after generation of social justice warriors schooled in grievance and activism.

If you really believe in compromise then you can't believe in big government, because government is force, and system, including the system of government social programs, is domination. Compromise means citizens getting together and solving their differences without anyone having the option of resorting to the club of political power and government force.

Science says that if you put Americans into a room and ask them to solve a problem they will do it, and they will do it by trying to give everyone a bit of the solution. So science says that the ingredients for compromise are there. The only thing needed is to figure out how to create the conditions that will encourage compromise.

Look, I get it. If you are a liberal you see dark forces everywhere combining to attack the great white citadels of liberal governance, threatening to demolish every social gain that liberals generously bestowed upon a grateful peasantry since the first days of wage and hour laws and bans on child labor.

But compromise starts with working to understand the point of view of the "other." And that is something that liberals haven't even begun to think actually applies to them rather than the great unwashed "other."

And so liberals natter on about compromise, unthinkingly believing that compromise is something that other people should be doing, not realizing that compromise starts with you, not the other guy.

And above all, compromise can only start with both sides leave their weapons at the door. I am not talking about assault rifles; I am talking about power: political power, economic power, cultural power, personal power.

Anything else is a chimera.

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