As America commemorated the 200th anniversary of the British burning down the White House during the War of 1812 last weekend, a scholar of that war offered a message for Americans who are alive today.
Since he gave that message on C-SPAN II on a weekend afternoon during football season, I’m clearly the only person who received it. Thus it is my duty to pass it on to you.
“My advice to those who call for bi-partisanship today is… don’t be surprised if you don’t get it,” said Donald R. Hickey, professor of History for Wayne State College, Nebraska. The divisions are just too deep-seated.
Hickey wound up to this conclusion after explaining that the War of 1812 was marked by “the most vigorous party opposition to any war in our history.”
From the outset, national Federalists voted against the war and state and local Federalists obstructed the efforts to combat the British. This effort benefited the party greatly in regions that opposed the Democratic-Republicans of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who was president at the time. However, after the war was resolved somewhat successfully for the United States, Federalists paid a political price and soon disappeared from national politics.
The American fantasy is that most wars are like World War II when nearly the entire country embraced military action. But Dickey points out that most wars are closer to the War of 1812, when partisan differences rarely disappear into the background. He asserts that politics of our second war against the British had much in common with the rampant divisions during the Quasi-War against the French in the 1790s, the conflicts that led to the Civil War, the Vietnam era and today.
“Now, how do we resolve these matters?” Dickey asked. “Well, typically — the Civil War I guess was an exception — but typically we resolve these differences by leaving matters up to the voters. The voters basically have to decide which side do you support. And then ultimately these things are worked out. At least, that’s the way things should work and normally does work in a democracy.”
Americans love compromise. It’s our national fetish. Conflict breeds uncertainty and people crave relief from the constant change of life.
Many compromises — such as those that led to the Civil War — just delay the inevitable. And many compromises are simply victories in the guise of the winning side offering the marginal concessions to get their victory faster.
When President Obama won, the Bush tax cuts for the rich ended. But because Republicans still held the House, they were able to raise the income threshold and keep some of the breaks in the estate tax.
For a party that has committed itself to never raising taxes on anyone, especially the rich, this was a huge loss. Not only has it resulted in the two best years of job growth in nearly a decade, it has help eliminate nearly all of the “deficit crisis” the right was using to justify huge cuts to our safety net. But it wasn’t a complete victory because Republicans had gerrymandered a House majority in 2010 that they kept even when they won fewer votes than Democratic house candidates in 2012.
The crisis of income inequality remains — as does the question of if we’ll ever ask the rich to pay a share of taxes that matches their share of wealth by taxing investment income at the same rate as regular income.
Not one Republican frontrunner accepts that climate change is a man-made crisis that we must act to avoid now — because that concession is inherently an argument against conservatism itself.
Liberals want to expand our social safety net with a public option, Social Security payments that keep up with seniors’ real expenses and programs like the earned income tax credit that put more cash in people’s hands. Republicans want to privatize the safety net and pass these costs on to consumers.
The Affordable Care Act is fully entrenched in areas where Medicaid has been expanded but all the Republican candidates for president — perhaps excluding John Kasich who expanded Medicaid — are still for full repeal.
Obamacare was an attempt at compromise that embraced policies advocated by the right in opposition to Hillary Clinton’s health proposals in the 1990s and were implemented by Mitt Romney in the 2000s. And it only moved Republicans to the new extremes.
Compromises on all of these issues only mean that conservatives are winning.
If we compromise and do little-to-nothing about climate change, the right and their carbon-polluting patrons win. If we reform our tax rates in a way that doesn’t ask the richest who have never been richer to pay more, trickle-down economics is still in effect. If we tinker with our safety net by relying more on the private sector, which has given us the most expensive health care in the world, we will have surrendered.
Either health care is a right — or it isn’t.
There is no compromise when it comes to a party that rests in absolutes. Victory — for them or us — is the only option. Vigorous opposition that appeals to your base is a great short-term policy. But our history has tended to show that those who have erred on the side of obstinacy have faded into history that only is discussed on C-SPAN 2.
Photo by Chris Savage | Eclectablog