Bob Franken: The compromise subterfuge

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, November 18, 2014 4:43pm
  • Opinion

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s Republicans may control Congress now, but it’s an open question as to whether McConnell and Boehner control their own party caucuses. That’s an important consideration, because as they try to work out their deals with the White House, at some point they’ll have to convince President Barack Obama and the Democrats that they can deliver enough of their members. They can negotiate whatever compromises they want, but if their people revolt because they didn’t get enough and reject the bargains, then they’re just wasting time even trying.

There are all sorts of indications that they will not be able to guarantee the votes needed after the give-and-take is done. You have Ted Cruz in the Senate as well as his disciples in the House saying upfront that they’re not bending, and when it comes to giving up some of what they demand, they’re not interested.

Meanwhile, for the Democrats, Barack Obama is at the tag end of his presidency and suddenly has decided on a “No more Mr. Nice Guy” approach. Even after his party got “shellacked” in the midterms, he’s taking it to the Republicans like he never has before. And they’re foaming at the mouth. The leaked plans to take executive action that would, among other things, stop the deportation of millions of people in this country illegally is causing their heads to explode.

McConnell and Boehner are spending all their energy to prevent their troops from doing something precipitous and stupid. There is a lot of noise from their people that they should retaliate by forcing a government shutdown, or something equally confrontational. Of course, they’d be playing right into the Democrats’ hands, at least the ones who are thinking ahead to 2016’s race to elect the next POTUS, but principle is principle, and they’re not about to let some lame duck quack the whip.

On the face of it, talk of cooperation from both sides sounds like sanctimonious platitude. That’s because it is. The reality is that bipartisanship is a foolish fantasy floating in the toxic cesspool of Washington politics. The reality is that both sides have decided that the best tactic for the campaign wars is to litter the enemy’s road with land mines.

There is, however, another Pollyannaish way to look at all the bombast bombshells. They may be little more than opening positions — ways of establishing harsh starting points at the edges before cooler heads tediously move close to middle ground. By this faintly optimistic reckoning, unreasonable inflexibility really signals a willingness to ultimately resort to reasonable flexibility.

McConnell and Boehner are not rookies in this game. They’ve been playing it for years. At the White House, POTUS has the advantage of counsel from VPOTUS Joe Biden, who spent decades wheeling and dealing in the Senate, with, among others, Mitch McConnell.

So far, so good. But there are players on both sides who view any accommodation as total surrender. They’re usually the new guys in town, sent by the voters in Hooterville to stand up for their harsh views. Otherwise, they won’t get re-elected. Of course, they’re going to claim that they want to work for bipartisan solutions. It’s easy to say, but what’s left unsaid is their definition of compromise, which is that the other side caves in to all of their demands. That mindset makes statesmanship improbable.

But sure, they may as well try. They need to do something in the next couple of years, in addition to shooting artillery. Besides, the nation has some serious problems that need addressing immediately. Not negotiating for real would be ruinously insane. Unfortunately that pretty much describes the situation up till now.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

More in Opinion

Nurse Sherra Pritchard gives Madyson Knudsen a bandage at the Kenai Public Health Center after the 10-year-old received her first COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: A mom’s and pediatrician’s perspective on COVID-19 vaccines for children

I want to see children and their parents who have yet to get vaccinated roll up their sleeves.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

This from a state that has no property tax on homes or businesses, only on the oil industry.

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Alaska Voices: Restore our strong campaign donation limits

Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of one person, one vote is no longer really true.