Think blue, act red
During his trip to Copenhagen last month, President Barack Obama was not able to achieve all he had hoped. Instead of a legally binding contract, the outcome was a non-binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050. Yet the president was optimistic. “This is a classic example of a situation where if we just waited ... then we would not make any progress,” he said.
This is typical Obama. Throughout his first year in office and his presidential campaign, he highlighted compromise. But instead of talking to the other side — Republicans — Obama could give some advice to his fellow Democrats.
The Democratic Party is notorious for being — pardon my bluntness — stubborn as a mule. Ironically, this is also the party that takes pride in its broadmindedness. Yet Democrats have been unable to move forward with legislation because of infighting. In politics, it is rare to get 100 percent of what you want. However much one needs to compromise though, a partial victory is always better than no victory at all. Obama understands this. Republicans understand this. Congressional Democrats — for the most part — simply don’t get it.
Take the 2009 health care debates. The Democrats had a perfect opportunity to push the most important piece of progressive health legislation since the Social Security Act of 1965. What should have evoked a painless consensus among Democratic interests — not to mention millions of uninsured Americans — exploded into a free-for-all of bickering and overwrought party politics.
In one corner were the Blue Dog Democrats, unhappy with the amount of spending. On the other were the left-wing single-payer supporters, determined to achieve the health care system of Canada and Great Britain. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a recipient of major insurance industry donations, basically wrote an entirely new bill. After a series of compromise revisions, progressives were even more unhappy and, in an effort spearheaded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, threatened to “kill the bill.”
Now compare this to congressional arguments regarding the invasion of Iraq during President Bush’s first term. Surely conservative Republicans thought the military strategy too weak. Surely moderate Republicans cautioned against the invasion and expressed their views openly and loudly.
No. The Republicans — and most of the Democrats for that matter — stood solidly behind their president. The same was true during the health care debates, when Republicans all marched in lockstep with the party line against universal health care. Ironically, they rarely challenged any actual legislation; the opposition mainly consisted of shouting key phrases such as “death panels” and “socialism,” with no agenda other than to provide a roadblock for Obama. But it is impossible to deny their effect; the Democrats had to consistently water-down the bill, yet when the house vote finally came in November, only one Republican representative — Louisiana’s Joseph Cao — voted “yes.”
An open exchange of ideas is always a good idea, as formalized in our system of checks and balances. Yet with the new year having just started and midterm elections being only months away, it is important for the Democratic Party to become a stronger, more resolute political entity. If they wish to see their party successful in the coming years, they should not fall back on their divisiveness but instead revert to the united spirit that carried Obama to the White House.
Isaac Stone is a sophomore in the School of International Service and the College of Arts and Sciences and a liberal columnist for The Eagle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.