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When Compromise is No Virtue

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I’ve been patiently waiting for the Democrats in the House and Senate to see what is right before their eyes. I admit, I’ve hoped for nearly two years that would see it—and act upon it. Compromise is a futile strategy for change—at least it is in this particular Congress, where majority rule has been supplanted by super-majority rule; where 60 votes is required to pass anything and everything. It seems that a 51-vote majority is just sooo yesterday. (And yes, I know it’s been used by both parties, but it is simply shameful the way in which it has been used these past two years—an abuse of the rule’s intent.)

I know that the House has tried. It’s passed many bills that have gotten stuck in the surreality of this 60-votes-equals-majority Senate. And, to be sure, much blame falls on the Senate Democratic leadership. 

For some reason, what is crystal clear to Democratic (and many Independent) voters is invisible to the party’s political leaders. So, I shall say it here, joining the voices of so many others—bloggers and editorial page types, commentators and policy wonks. 

Hear ye Democrats: you cannot win by compromise—not in 2010; you cannot implement policy by compromise. It takes two to compromise, and your only potential partner refuses to play along. The Republicans have been adamant to deny Democrats any sort of policy victory by forcing them to  compromise the teeth out of any piece of legislation to come before Congress (particularly the Senate) and then refusing to support even the most watered down end product has been the Republicans’ strategy for two years. It’s not likely to change.

And even with all the compromise and practical begging of the republicans to join in Obama’s vision of bipartisanship, the Democrats have gained nothing and have lost the zeal of the base. The Republican strategy has been clear (and no big secret): “Just say NO.” And it seems to be working.

As we wend our way into the final weeks of this midterm election campaign, the Republicans are poised to win big. Why? It’s not like voters are longing for the good old days of George W. Voters are frustrated and angry. And the anger is directed toward the party in power—and rightly so. Had the Democrats been bolder and less interested in one or two Republican votes (especially after it became clear that it just wasn’t going to happen), we might not be having this conversation right now. The American public that elected Obama and a Democratic House and Senate were ready for change—big and bold change, not the incremental, gruel served up. We expected better; we expected more.

Harry Reid should have done what Republican Senator Bill Frist did time and again when he lead the Republican led majority of Bush’s first term: threaten to go nuclear. And if necessary, make good on that threat. How dare the republican minority hold hostage bill after bill? How dare Harry Reid allow that to happen?  

And as for President Obama, what happened to the fiery promise of his campaign? Where is his leadership? Sometimes true leadership mean that you have to stand out there alone, taking bold (if risky) moves and whipping your Congressional allies into action to get done what needs to be done, whether that is delivering on real health care reform or transforming this economy (and our energy policy) with public/private partnerships in infrastructure, high speed rail and alternative energy development projects. 

If Democratic voters are slightly apathetic this election, it is of little wonder. But I admonish my fellow Democrats (and the Independents who voted democratic in 2008): look ahead to a potential future a Republican-led House and Senate. It’s a scary scenario and a harbinger of a frightening time to come. And should the Democrats manage somehow to prevail in November, the Senate should change the rules (as is its right) and bring this land back into majority—not super-majority—rule. 

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Jerome–exactly! The filibuster threat should not have stymied the Dems like it has. And that Jon Stewart quote is one of my favorites.

  • True, but it takes 60 to break a fillibuster, which the Republicans have been WAY overusing. I don’t know the Democrats didn’t just let them fillibuster and look like idiots for locking everything up, especially with health care. However, there are ways to get things done with a simple majority, and I’m frustrated they haven’t been doing it. As great as the Republicans have perfected smear and fear campaigns, the Democrats’ biggest enemy has always been themselves, and their own incompetence. To reference Jon Stewart, no one is better at snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

  • Ah, but it’s still 51 votes=majority, isn’t it?

  • Dr. Richard Kimble

    I wonder what all the people ignorant of the way Congress actaully works did before they had the Internet to reveal their lack of knowledge.

    This hasn’t been about compromise with the Republicans but compromise with Democrats. All 60, and it’s been 59 for quite a while, don’t vote in lockstep.

  • Amen. I could not have written this article better myself.

  • Is it any wonder that Gallup reports a 5% approval rating for congress? And that begs the question, why would anyone spend their own money on getting there?

  • Could not agree more.

  • marykir

    Senate rules should be changed regardless of which party has a majority. The 1000 page bills and arcane procedural maneuvers which have dominated reporting of Senate votes are ridiculous. Write bills that people can actually read and understand. Limit amendments to the content of the original bill, not something completely separate. Vote on the bills, not on whether to vote on the bills. Majority wins. Simple.