Compromise? It depends

Saturday November 10, 2012

Already there's plenty of spin and hand-wringing in the media trying to portray the president's victory over Republican Mitt Romney as a narrow one that must be followed by his reaching across the aisle toward compromises with the opposition in Congress. But hold that thought.

First, think back to 2000 when George W. Bush won a much narrower victory -- check that, he lost but was rescued by a dubious 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court -- but then proceeded to govern as if he had a stunning mandate. The current president should keep that in mind as he deals with heretofore recalcitrant and radical elements of the GOP in the House, where the party still has a majority, however shakier after Tuesday's voting.

Consider too these results from the national and state elections:

* A $6 billion tax hike proposal by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown of California was approved by voters in the state that originated much of the mindless, tax slashing mania with its Proposition 13 initiative in 1978 -- leading at last to a hamstrung government that could not raise the revenue direly needed for basic state services. The hope is that the era of non-specific tax cuts and arbitrary caps, which hamper the ability of governments to raise revenue and make no distinction between wasteful and vital spending, is finally over.

* The president won the votes of nearly 95 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of Asians, and 60 percent of the youth vote in the 2012 election. This presents the Republicans with an insolvable dilemma for future elections in light of the continued gains for minority groups as a percentage of total population. The GOP, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly white, elderly, male and petulant, as the president also won handily among women voters (55 percent) -- not to mention gay voters, which brings up another trend strongly favoring Democrats.

* After being defeated 32 times on state ballots over a number of years, gay marriage initiatives in Maine and Maryland won approval Tuesday from voters. This continues the undeniable shift, among blue states at least, toward acceptance of full civil rights for gays. In addition, the first openly gay senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, was elected in Wisconsin. Republican candidates in more and more districts could find themselves on the wrong side of this and other rights issues with voters.

* The victory of Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts known as a champion of tougher regulation of Wall Street and lender activities and a strong advocate for the middle class over the wealthy and large corporations, handily defeated popular and personable Scott Brown, the Republican incumbent. Just one of many signs that most voters are fed up with pols who excuse or promote the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the working classes, i.e., many Republicans.

* The defeat of Republicans expressing radical right-wing or simply outrageous views, like Todd Akin of Missouri, even in red states. Off the wall former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann of Minnesota narrowly escaped defeat. Many in the party already are debating how to rein in the radical retrograde elements that keep nominating nearly unelectable candidates in Republican primaries and jettisoning anyone who might compromise in Congress.

So, should President Obama rush to compromise with the congressional Republicans? We don't think so. He tried that in 2008 and met intractable opposition at every turn, much of it designed to make him "a one-term president," in the immortal words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Better to lay out a plan of tax hikes -- mostly but not entirely on the wealthy, with some to kick in when the economy is in better shape -- and a reform proposal for all federal programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the military, as well as a tax code overhaul to promote greater fairness and simplicity.

Then the president should ask Republicans, "What've you got?"

If the response is more of the same, he and the country would gain more from allowing the so-called and overblown "fiscal cliff" scenario to run its course. All that would happen is that programs both parties support would take a budget hit and taxes would rise on not only the rich but the middle class as well -- but only to levels we easily dealt with before the Bush administration began its irresponsible giveaway program to the wealthy in 2003. In other words, we can handle this truth, easily.

The stability that a serious move to pay down our mounting federal debt and halt the succession of annual deficits would likely boost economic activity more than enough to offset slightly higher taxes. More than anything, businesses want to know that the insane standoff over how to reduce debt and begin paying our way as a nation will end, someday.

In reality, no compromise is ever possible until both sides sense they could lose more by being stubborn than by giving something. Many in the GOP still haven't reached that point, but a hard-nosed president in the White House could push them along -- meanwhile setting a better long-term fiscal and economic course for the nation.


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