There is nothing inherently good about compromise. The ability to form a good compromise, when it is necessary, is an important skill. But you should compromise only when you can’t completely achieve what you want without it. If you have sufficient votes or support for your position and think it is the best choice of action, then you should pursue it. Compromising in that instance is stupid.
The problem with Washington is the fake “compromise fetish” (which is similar to the “bipartisan fetish”) that turned compromise into the desired goal–without regard to policy value or whether there is a need to compromise in the first place. What is the source of this fetish? Compromise destroys accountability. Politicians hate being held accountable and so they have a vested interest to support this fetish and those who share it.
The worst part is that this is not even a fetish for proper compromise. When two or more groups publicly state their positions and reasoning and then try to reach a middle ground while no side holds a majority, that is a proper political compromise. What dominates Washington is a fetish for backroom deals, which is dressed up in language about the virtues of compromise and bipartisanship. This “backroom deal fetish” lets politicians hide and lie about their positions. Senators don’t publicly state their positions, so no one can ever be held responsible for the watering down. At its core, this fetish for secret compromise is an attempt to undermine accountability. As a result, it also undermines the principle of democracy.
Take a look at how this accountability-destroying fetish works with the real “Audit the Fed.” It has already passed the House, so we know it has the votes there. Based on the fact that the amendment had a significant number of Republican co-sponsors, it would only fail if a lot of Democrats voted against it. Which Democrats are actually against it? I would really like to know, because that could definitely affect my vote in the next election.
I do not know if the original, stronger version of the amendment would have passed (and I never will), but given past votes and the willingness of Chris Dodd to compromise on it, the chances seem pretty good. Of course, I and the rest of America will never get to know, thanks to a secret backroom compromise. No one was ever forced to go on the record, so no one can be punished for standing against it.
This is how you kill accountability. The proper response to secret backroom deals to water down the amendment should be: “Why did we need to compromise at all? Who were the senators who planned to stand against this?” We have a right to answers, and unless we know where legislators stand, how can we attempt to elect a better Congress?
Instead, the backroom deal fetishists’ accountability destroying response was: “What a wonderful compromise! I don’t even know if it is good policy, but I love compromises because they are compromises.” Oh, and by the way, that means that they feel that it is perfectly fine if we never know who stood in the way of something we support when we consider the midterm elections.
The fake compromise fetishists give cover to lying politicians who speak out of both sides of their mouths. It encourages them to lie by creating a system in which they will never need to fulfill their promises. In fact, not fulfilling their promises will even be hailed as a virtue because they “trade” them away as part of secret compromises.
We could not get a real Audit the Fed passed in the Senate because there were claims that 41 senators were against it. We will never know who they are because there will not be a vote. We could not get a health care public option in reconciliation because of a mystery group of at least 51 senators, and the fear that it might disturb the secret compromise. As for who actually stood in the way of the public option, the voters will forever be kept in the dark, despite promises by the President, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority leader. On the biggest issue in the health care fight, backroom deal fetishists helped justify most senators hiding their actual stance.
A similar big promise on direct Medicare drug price negotiation was never put to a vote by Democrats. Despite its being part of the Democratic platform, and despite Democrats being in full control of both branches of Congress, it needed to be traded away as part of a compromise to PhRMA. Once again, we get a compromise when we were all falsely led to believe we elected enough supporters of the measure so that a compromise would not be needed. Who do we need to replace to actually achieve this goal? Our not having the answer to that question is a great way for PhRMA to prevent it ever happening. We are still working to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and yet we don’t know who is prepared to vote against the LBGT community, or if compromise is even necessary.
The list goes on and on. Like hiding behind the filibuster, using fake compromise fetishists to justify secret deals is how accountability is being drained from our democracy. Voters deserve to know exactly where their representatives really stand. Open, transparent compromise is fine when needed, but this disgusting process of creating secret, backroom deals without ever letting the voters know who stands for or against anything is detrimental to democracy.