WHY THE CENTER DOES NOT HOLD
P A R T I S A N – D I V I S I O N S
A Centrist Perspective
Analysis of Paralysis
The Enemies of Compromise
[A version of this was published in the Post Register, a regional newspaper based in Idaho Falls.]
By Jay B Gaskill
For the moment, the Congress is stalled on the simple question of keeping the government funded for a while longer.
In 1919, poet William Butler Yeats wrote – “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
He could have been speaking to us.
The country’s growing discord and disintegration have been painfully apparent: Americans have experienced political disagreements, but also enjoyed a vital center where partisan bickering yielded to commonsense consensus. But today, the center does not hold. The USA needs more centrist leaders.
Politics has been infected. Here is my short list of toxins:
Revolutionary arrogance is the mindset that says “WE know the path of future progress, and people will come around even if THEY don’t know what’s good for them right now. So people need to be pressured into doing the ‘right thing.’ If necessary, we block popular half-measures to let the pressure for change build up.”
Hostage holding is when a public policy measure that almost everyone favors is being blocked to force concessions on something people oppose.
Credit hording happens when one faction demands exclusive credit for finally doing something about problem X, and wants no credit given to the other side.
Grandstanding happens when an attention hungry politician abandons trying to achieve results and makes a grandiose declaration of moral purity, prophetic wisdom and faux courage.
Covert enactment takes place all the time: An unpopular measure is hidden in an omnibus appropriation bill. An unelected agency quietly requires something that a majority of voters never agreed to.
In a conversation with Representative Simpson after a local presentation, he said that the partisan suspension of the “regular order” in the Obama Care rush, bypassing congressional hearings, expert testimony and due deliberation, was unprecedented in his entire career.
Majorities in both parties have favored restoring health insurance to people who can’t get back into health insurance because of an intervening medical issue, and on providing medical help to the children of poor parents. Those issues were held hostage by advocates of comprehensive government-funded health insurance. Pre-existing conditions and indigent children were seen as pressure points to force “real” reform. Thus an immensely complicated measure was rammed through without the usual debate. Because the “Affordable Care Act” was covertly underfunded, there was blowback.
Division and political paralysis should be the exception, but they are the norm. Consensus policies are often sacrificed on the altar of patronage, power and position. This inevitably leads to blowback. Real dialogue among competing parties will remain paralyzed until we insist on electing people who just don’t play games. We need more heads-down, honest, practical politicians.
The toxic forces that undermined the center were incubated in the nurseries of the radical 60’s and the traumatic 70’s. The worship of ego, ambition, and ideological victory, and the addiction to ideological gesture, won out over the center. Over time, our common commitment to the overall good of the country, our shared sense of policy humility and forbearance, were eroded, gradually suffocating in the intoxicating enthusiasm for cause-identification and celebrity.
Today, both political parties find themselves at a crossroads. Instead of revolutionary arrogance, both should embrace creative humility. In place of credit hoarding, both should practice credit sharing, and put an end to hostage-holding by prioritizing items of shared agreement. The parties might even replace grandstanding with honest leadership. Surely the practice of covert enactment can be ended with transparency.
Recovery starts where the center still holds. Here. Now.
Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Jay B Gaskill, attorney at law
Jay Gaskill is an attorney, a political independent, analyst and author. Sign up to get notices about his latest thrillers at – http://jaygaskillauthor.com.