The result was that Carol tended to get what she wanted more frequently than I did. No doubt she would disagree. Nevertheless, I was the one regularly lectured on being reasonable. Now, as an adult, I discover that not much has changed. There are still times when I am required to be reasonable because others are not.
Congressional Republicans must now deal with a quandary not unlike the one I first faced when I was 4. They, too, find themselves confronting an adversary that will not give an inch. Consequently, they too are told to be reasonable; “You know you can’t win, so give up!”
No doubt Democrats also believe they are being reasonable in their budgetary intransigence. As they see it, they are on the side of the angels in both the Obamacare funding and debt ceiling battles. Because victory in each of these is deemed absolutely necessary, they bridle at Republican resistance.
Yet, which side is it that has insisted there can be no negotiations? And which side is it that has said “no” to virtually every compromise sent from the House to the Senate? And which side is it that daily hammers its opponents with epithets indicating that they are vicious and uncaring?
Oh, I know that the on-going political battle is generally depicted as a childish food fight in which both sides are equally responsible. I also know that the Republicans are charged with initiating the fracas because they attached a rider to the budget bill defunding Obamacare.
But if you observe what has happened, you find a decided lack of symmetry. Both the president and congressional Democrats have called Republicans terrorists, arsonists, anarchists, extremists, extortionists and jihadists. Yet, in return, the Republicans have usually limited themselves to decrying Obama’s lack of leadership and depicting Obamacare as a train wreck in the making.
By the same token, Democrats routinely charge Republicans with being reckless and needlessly shutting down the government. Republicans are also said to be placing the entire global economy at risk. Why is it, however, that if things are this bad, Democrats have refused to offer counter-proposals — except do things entirely their way?
Ever since the time of Alexis de Tocqueville, the genius of the American democratic system has been that opposed parties are willing to compromise. The one glaring exception, of course, concerned slavery and it resulted in a civil war during which more Americans lost their lives than in any other of our wars.
Obama and his allies, unfortunately, spurn compromise. They even reject budgetary stopgaps as “piecemeal” and thus unacceptable. As one of the president’s own advisors recently divulged, their goal is to utterly destroy the Republicans. They want a complete victory, whatever the collateral damage.
For my own part, I consider this attitude absolutely unreasonable. Some Republicans may have overshot the mark. The Democrats, however, refuse even to enter a conversation. This approach, though they pose otherwise, is immature and out of keeping with our nation’s traditions.
If the American people do not realize this, and if the media chorus continues to distort realities, they too are complicit in undermining a political practice that has made America great. The notions that “we won the election” and that Obamacare is “the law of the land,” and that therefore the other side must shut up and be satisfied with nothing is profoundly anti-democratic.
So what should Republicans do? The lesson I learned as a child was that being reasonable can make you vulnerable to unreasonable people. What I also learned is that the best response is to continue being reasonable. In the long run, descending to the level of a childish foe is dangerous for all concerned.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.