Jump to content

Great editorial

Recommended Posts

This is from today's LA Times, it's leading editorial. Very, very impressive. If this isn't legible on I-Pads or whatever, here's a link to the original: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-politics-principle-compromise-20160413-story.html

Campaign 2016: Idealism battles pragmatism in the Democratic Party

Bernie Sanders' promises are like music or candy to liberal Democrats. Free tuition for all. High-quality healthcare provided by the government as a matter of right, not charity. Help for the poor that would simultaneously reduce income inequality and increase fairness. Many Democrats — and especially young Democrats — see in the Vermont senator a candidate who won't kowtow to the other side, won't vote for the Iraq war or oppose gay marriage because it is politically expedient to do so, but instead will say what he means, demand what he wants and stick to his principles in a world full of compromisers and triangulators.

But uh-oh, here comes the voice of reason, Hillary Clinton, offering an alternative narrative. Sanders' proposals sound fabulous, she says, but shouldn't we return for a moment to the real world? A world of divided government, where even the president of the United States cannot have her way but must negotiate and haggle for votes from across the aisle.

Clinton backers see a world in which both houses of Congress are controlled, at last for the moment, by the GOP, and the only path forward for a Democratic president with a progressive agenda is one of wheeling and dealing and, yes, compromise. Sanders' bold, feel-good proposals would be dead on arrival, and although he may win votes from young idealists and old lefties, he will never accomplish as much in office as she will. Or so they say.

A good politician must learn how to make rational sacrifices without trading away his or her core convictions.

At the moment, the Clintonian vision of the world appears to have a slight edge. In exit polls from Ohio, 77% of Democratic primary voters said Clinton's policies were “realistic,” while only 58% said the same about Sanders' policies. That divide was even wider in Florida and North Carolina. Perhaps that's what's being reflected in the lopsided delegate count, which she leads, 1,758 to 1,069.

Sadly, this dispute — idealism, let's call it, versus pragmatism — won't be settled regardless of who eventually wins the Democratic nomination.

These two competing narratives predate the Clinton-Sanders showdown (and indeed are as old as democracy itself), and will still be around long after the 2016 race has been run and won. Since antiquity, people who think about politics have debated whether the greatest leaders are men and women of unyielding principle or those who understand the importance of setting realistic goals, cutting deals and locking in partial gains when possible.

The debate goes back to Aristotle, to Machiavelli. In the 18th century, Edmund Burke wrote that “all government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” In the 19th century, John Stuart Mill wrote: “I became practically conversant with the difficulties of moving bodies of men, the necessities of compromise, the art of sacrificing the nonessential to preserve the essential.” On the other side, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) argued in his 2006 farewell address: “It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle.”

America's beloved President Lincoln was a compromiser on an issue over which there wouldn't seem to be much room for moral flexibility. Although he insisted he had always opposed slavery in his heart, he for many years declined to call for abolition in existing slave states and merely opposed its westward expansion into new territories. Even after the Civil War began, he backed a gradual rather than immediate end to slavery, with compensation to be paid to slave owners. Many abolitionists saw such compromise as surrender. “It is by compromise that human rights have been abandoned,” said Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner.

President Obama, despite an early flirtation with hope and change, has been mostly in the pragmatic camp. After cutting a 2010 deal with the GOP on taxes that angered his Democratic base, Obama derided “the satisfaction of having a purist position — and no victories for the American people.”

A similar battle has played out among Republicans in the House of Representatives, where GOP leaders have been under siege for several years by ideological purists. And in presidential politics, the Republican Party has swung back and forth for decades between far-right conservatives pushing an idealized vision of minimalist government and those championing a more expansive “big tent” party that places problem-solving above ideology. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) represents the former this year and Ohio Gov. John Kasich the latter.

It's a debate that will undoubtedly go on forever, but in reality the question does not require a binary solution. It is not the case that compromisers are right and politicians of principle wrong — or vice versa. What's more, there are few politicians who do not have a mix of the idealist and the pragmatist in them. (Surely Clinton would claim to have principles and Sanders no doubt would insist he's willing to make rational compromises; it's just a matter of degree.)

In truth, the tough question facing politicians is not whether to compromise, but under what circumstances to do so. A president like Obama, who currently must work with a Congress dominated by the opposing party, has to compromise far more than a Lyndon Johnson, whose Democrats controlled the House and the Senate throughout his term in office.

A good politician must learn how to make rational sacrifices without trading away his or her core convictions. He or she must also ask whether a particular compromise will bring an improvement over the status quo, even an incremental one — if so, then perhaps it's worth agreeing to. Although it is true that a candidate who makes an effort to compromise may nevertheless find himself with few or no partners, a candidate who refuses to compromise at all will very often accomplish little or nothing.

The appeal of Sanders is his moral crusade, his reimagining of American politics beyond the narrow frame of what's “achievable” in an increasingly dysfunctional, partisan process. When Sanders spoke to The Times' editorial board recently, he spoke of a campaign that was “profoundly different” from others and a presidency that would “transform this country” through what he calls a “political revolution.” Bold words, inspiring words and an important reminder to Democrats not to allow themselves to be locked into a box by unimaginative politicians who fail to think big.

But if the balance of power in Washington doesn't change radically, if the political revolution fails to materialize, Sanders' audacious promises would remain merely slogans and wishes.

Link to comment

Nothing really surprising there, though the current era of ultra-partisan politics make the art of compromising extremely challenging. For many politicians, trying compromise is not worth it because they will lose needed support internally within the party and with their constituents if they're not seen to be ideologically pure. This applies to both sides of politics -- it's not a left- or right-wing problem (as the article indicates).

Link to comment

Cole, thanks for bringing that analysis to our attention.

I don't claim to be a student of politics, but the last paragraph confirms my view that the ability of US politics to make significant progress, in whatever direction, depends on the constructive or obstructionist attitude of Congress towards the President of the day. Unfortunately small minded obstructionism for its own sake is not always identified as such and nor does it always get trounced at the next electoral test.

Link to comment

I think you have to have Congressmen who put the good of the country ahead of personal gain, or even their specific constituency's narrow gains, when voting on issues. We don't seem to have that now, and the separation between the parties has been accomplished with a divisive rancor. This is why I think we need someone as President who can get things accomplished through wisdom, experience and, if you will, a certain degree of conniving. What Trump would do is hand off all his problems to underlings, and who knows the effect that would have. Cruz is intransigent and might even rule according to Old Testament biblical law; he might well be worse than Trump; the word 'compromise' isn't in his vocabulary. Sanders is a dreamer, and I'm afraid he'd accomplish less than Obama, a pragmatist at heart, was able to effect.

That leaves Kasich and Hilary. Either would be better than the aforementioned.


Link to comment

Not, since I'm not a US voter, that it's any of my business (except to the extent that the President of the US of A inevitably has enormous influence on the rest of the world) but I'm thinking it would be interesting if the next president was Hilary and her vice-president was Bernie...

Link to comment

Just as easily, he'd be an indictment away. Hillary's problem in working with classified information has yet to run its course and puts her on a collision course with Andrew Johnson and Hillary's hubby Bill on the road to impeachment. It's one of those cases where she might beat the rap but she won't beat the ride. Congress will be an unholy mess for months if not years (I know - nothing new) but her ability to function as a president would be severely constrained. So if it's going to be a Democratic president, let's skip all the drama and go directly to The Bern.

I did find it amusing that the LA Times managed to write an article about the upcoming election without once mentioning Donald. I wish the press would simply conspire and use their freedom to give us a Trump-free week.

Link to comment

She didn't break any laws. The FBI has already stated that. The documents that are classified that were mishandled were so rated after the fact. This is a hullabaloo over nothing, just a prolonged attempt to discredit her.

And if she does get in, she can pardon herself.


Sorry, but most of the documents were classified after the fact, not all. I don't believe the FBI has stated she didn't break any laws -- they're still investigating. Who they charge (if anyone) remains to be seen. There are certainly arguments for why Hillary Clinton won't be charged, but there are also arguments as to why she should (given certain assumptions as to what has happened, since all the facts are not in the public domain).

Personally, I'm still waiting to see what happens.

Link to comment

I've heard the same. I've also heard that some of the charges involve prison time if they're proven and that based on the information released to date, plus the large number of FBI agents involved in the investigation, they're not looking at misdemeanor charges.

All in all, I know that both sides of politics are spinning this the way they want to spin it. That means that the truth as to what is going on is extremely well hidden. I'm going to wait to see what happens without any expectations as to what will, or will not, result.

Link to comment

I recall that the Murdock press breathlessly reported that over 100 FBI agents were investigating this matter. Then it turned out that the number was actually 14 (if memory serves) which seems appropriate for a high profile case and most of them are probably technical support personnel and not actual agents. I've also heard it breathlessly compared to the Petraeus scandal, which of course it is not. So I suspect the matter will ultimately vanish with a whimper and will be believed only by the Whitewater/Benghazi circus who never give up and generally subscribe to abstinence only sex education and a 6000 year old Earth among their many delusions.

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...