When did politics change? Or did it?
Those questions arise in the wake of former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot’s address to Flathead Valley Community College last week in which he lamented “a drift” from the principles on which the nation was founded.
Racicot was giving the inaugural Mike Mansfield Lecture at the college, and he drew upon the late Montana senator’s lifetime of leadership to make the case that “decency” and “compromise” are the missing elements in today’s politics.
As reported in the Daily Inter Lake, Racicot worried that, “The word ‘compromise’ … has come to sound like a ‘deal with the devil,’ and today seemingly represents the sacrifice of the best to suit the worst.”
Racicot quoted Mansfield, “I’ve always felt that the true strength of the Senate lay in the center. Not on the right and not on the left, but with those people who could see both sides. Differences can be abridged. Solutions can be found. Concessions can be made. It is much better to take an inch, than to take nothing at all.”
The problem with Racicot’s argument is that the Senate described by Mike Mansfield doesn’t exist any longer. Does anyone believe that the differences between right and left in 2017 can be abridged? Does anyone believe that solutions can be found? Does anyone believe that concessions are ever made short of a political bribe?
I’m not inclined to think that the politicians in Mike Mansfield’s era were better than the ones who serve us now, but I do think the world he lived in was better than the one we find ourselves in today. For one thing, America was a united country — except for a very small minority, we pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America instead of protesting against it. We celebrated our superior strength, courage and moral character rather than apologizing for it.
And, most importantly, we were confident that our children’s lives and opportunities would be better than our own. That’s no longer true for most of us, and rather than closing our eyes to the prospect of a dangerous cliff ahead, or running headlong toward it, many of us have said that the compromises and concessions that previous generations of politicians made on our behalf have led us into mortal peril.
An example on the domestic side of the agenda is health care. When I wrote a cautionary column about the dangers of nationalized health care in 2006, I was only half serious when I said, “old Karl Marx may have the last laugh.” I was still optimistic that the innate canniness of the American public would serve us well when the carnival barker was trying to lure us into the tent to see the freak show. Who could possibly fall for the inverted logic of Marx’s “From each according to their ability; to each according to their need”?
Well, Jimmy Kimmel, to start with. The millionaire comedian feels guilty because he has enough money to pay for his sick child, while other people go wanting. The problem is that he isn’t using his guilt to shell out his own fortune to take care of others; he is asking you and me to do it. Obamacare premiums are going up exponentially for healthy people because they are paying for health care for sick people. The government is shelling out billions of dollars in health expenditures because it feels good to do so, but without acknowledgment of the fact that the national economy is a finite system and that we will bankrupt ourselves long before we eliminate the human pain and suffering that comes from human mortality.
So how did we get here? Compromise. Concessions.
The Republicans didn’t support Obamacare initially, of course, but in state after state, they tied their fortunes to the flawed burning chariot called Medicaid expansion. And now they have turned health care into a right and an entitlement so that there is no going back. Though the system is fatally flawed, no one speaks of making concessions to reality and admitting that the Congress cannot play God and order people to be healthy.
On the foreign policy front, we have three issues where concessions and compromise have dug us into deep pits, any one of which could swallow our country whole. The fake hard lines on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs both have the potential to cost millions of lives. Concession has led to nuclear blackmail, not global security.
Meanwhile, illegal immigration and legal chain immigration are changing the very fabric of our nation so that the founding principles that Gov. Racicot celebrates today will be forgotten tomorrow. Even now, our Founding Fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin are held in contempt by growing numbers of citizens, who don’t realize that the good fortune we inherited in the form of a Constitution and Bill of Rights can easily slip away.
Racicot is concerned about preserving “decency,” and while that is a noble goal, it pales beside the prospect of surrendering our lives, our liberty, or our ability to pursue our happiness in the false hope of “getting along.” When you compromise with people who don’t share your fundamental principles, you are either “making a deal with the devil,” or you are the devil. Take your choice.
That’s why there is a growing divide between the establishment wing of the Republican Party represented by former Gov. Racicot and the conservative wing of the party represented by Steve Bannon and, sometimes, Donald Trump.
If you believe the system we have thrived under for 230 years is being undermined by people who want to “fundamentally transform” the country into something new, you cannot in good conscience compromise. As Winston Churchill urged young Britons when confronted by an implacable foe in Nazism, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
The alternative is surrender, and if we give up America, the world is lost.
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.