How not to accommodate radicalism

Updated
 

A few weeks before the 2012 presidential election, a very curious argument made the rounds on the right, and was touted by some high-profile pundits. The argument wasn’t just strange, it also lacked in self-awareness, but it was presented without apology.

The pitch was straightforward: Republicans will simply never work constructively or cooperatively with Democrats, so if you want to avoid “gridlock,” voters have no choice but to let Republicans control everything. An inflexible GOP, allergic to compromise and obsessed with obstructionism, would rather destroy the government than work cooperatively with Democrats, ergo, don’t elect Democrats.

Given the election results, it appears most of the electorate apparently didn’t buy the argument. But the underlying principle hasn’t gone away just yet. Today, for example, Michael Gerson makes the case that when it comes to next week’s dangerous sequestration cuts, “all sides bear responsibility for this self-destructive turn of events.” And what have Democrats done wrong? The former George W. Bush speechwriter argues:

Democratic proposals to avoid the sequester are consistent with an aggressive blame-shifting strategy. Replacing a measure that currently consists of 100 percent budget cuts with one that includes 50 percent revenue increases would probably secure zero Republican votes in the Senate. If Boehner were even to publicly consider this approach, he would likely lose his speakership. The Democratic alternative is designed to be unacceptable to nearly every Republican, making it not a plan but a ploy.

It’s important to think this through because the argument is nearly identical to what we heard in October.

What Gerson is arguing is that in the sequester fight, Democrats are to blame – or least share half the blame – because Democrats are not simply giving Republicans what they want. Dems know the GOP won’t accept a compromise that requires concessions in both sides, so Dems are being needlessly “aggressive” and are pushing an “unacceptable” solution by asking the two sides to meet somewhere in the middle.

Why? Because the Democratic compromise offer expects Republicans to be reasonable – and according to Gerson, this necessarily means Democrats are being irresponsible.

It’s just amazing to see this in print, presented as a serious observation. Democrats are open to a balanced compromise, Republicans aren’t, so Democrats bear some responsibility for the mess by asking far-right extremists who abhor compromise to accept a deal that requires equal sacrifices from both sides.

If only Democrats would accept Republican extremism at face value, and realize GOP officials aren’t interested in constructive bipartisan policymaking, they could simply give Republicans what they want and spare us all the aggravation.

Gerson concluded, “The American political system is not designed for efficiency. But it presupposes deliberation and leadership. The serial abdication of both eventually has an economic and human cost.”

And in this case, Obama is open to deliberation, and he’s trying to lead by adopting a compromise both sides should be able to live with, but Gerson still blames both sides – because the president’s offer doesn’t preemptively accommodate Republicans’ unyielding inflexibility.

Michael Gerson, Sequester and Sequestration

How not to accommodate radicalism

Updated