I am wondering if the way we think about things is our problem. Here is the big one: Compromise may not be a virtue, but our downfall. Let me connect the dots on two news stories today. First, Leaders Roll up Sleeves on Climate, but Experts Say Plans Don’t Pack a Wallop:
Unless countries develop more ambitious plans, the experts say, the world could ultimately suffer profound consequences, including debilitating heat waves, food shortages and fast-rising seas.
And of course there are competing interests basically short-term pain to long-term catastrophe. Then you turn to an op-ed that tells us: An Energy Bill that Needs Fixes.
The bill is a modest attempt at bipartisanship in a Congress that has seen very little of it. Both sides of the aisle put aside their most ambitious energy proposals in an effort to achieve small gains. That is not necessarily a bad thing, given how deeply divided the two parties are on energy and environmental policy.
It contains some good things, “However, it also contains harmful measures that need to be stripped out before it becomes law. Its most problematic provision, a bipartisan amendment advocated by several senators, including Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, requires the government to consider electricity generated by burning trees and other forest biomass as carbon-neutral.”
So what are we playing at here? Moving chairs around on the deck of the Titanic? Things will be better for a while until the whole thing goes tits up? But special interests get a short-term reprieve over the fate of our children? Compromising with bad ideas is a bad idea. Climate science is easy. We know the end result, except of course for the deniers (Republicans), we know what has to be done. And we don’t do it because…
Okay let’s take a not so direct example. Ross Douthat, okay judge the source, wrote a column this morning about Bernie, but I thought the language was telling: leading a left-wing-youth-movement. What is left-wing? Is that single payer health care? Is it taking money out of politics? Is it free public universities? Is it paying more taxes so we can afford these things?
Note we call Bernie an idealist while we call Hillary a pragmatist. All these labels are laden with meaning. Left wing is out there. Idealist is ineffective. A pragmatist gets things done. But the labels no longer apply. If you want universal health care, a single payer system is what the world has shown us is the way to get there. Isn’t that then pragmatic? If being an idealist is dreaming and proposing the only real changes that will turn us around, is that idealism, or is it being pragmatic. If what is political realistic does not solve the problem are you really impractical to propose real fixes anyway?
Let me connect the two ideas. We are into labeling as ways to send emotion laden messages in code about ideas. But the labeling is no longer accurate. Compromise and bipartisanship is not a good thing if the compromise does not solve a problem that must be solved, just makes us feel better about ourselves. Idealistic is not idealistic if the only way to make our political system work is to get money out of politics. Right wing or left-wing are emotion and meaning laden words that tell us nothing about whether the ideas they are describing work. Is it left-wing to want free public college education when to compete and to advance our standard of living, that is the only way we are going to make education affordable for everyone? Oh, and other countries already do it?
We have reached a point where most conservative ideas are no longer functional. They worked fine in a frontier society where there was lots of opportunity for everyone. Today we have competing interests, inequality and a rigged system everywhere, and a complex world where everything we do impacts everyone else. Just being competent and disciplined in a very unlevel playing field no longer works. Said simply, working hard no longer guarantees anything. The solutions we require can no longer tolerate half measures that may not work. In terms of global warming, it simply dooms our children. In terms of compromise with a system that no longer works, it just makes the final explosion louder and more devastating. To attack ideas as right-wing or left-wing is nonsense. It is an excuse to not to examine them in the light of their efficacy.
So my plea here is simple. Let me hear no more about bipartisan bills as an assumed good idea. Let me hear no more that an idea is left-wing or right-wing, or politically impractical. We have real needs to move this country forward and we need to consider the ideas in simple terms of do they solve the problem. We won’t hear that because one whole political party has no new ideas and they want us to ignore reality. But the rest of us could get smarter and quit thinking working with them is a good idea when their ideas no longer address reality as we know it.