Friday, August 12, 2011

Which is It?

As lawmakers meet with voters back home in their districts, the message is often not “Can’t we all just get along?” but rather a push to get back into the ring and fight harder, as they face the most partisan and intransigent factions of both parties.
In middle school auditoriums, retirement centers, recital halls and other such venues, angry constituents are deriding their representatives for the spectacle of the past month over the raising of the debt ceiling.
But in many cases, the anger is less about the dissension that brought the nation to the edge of default than frustration with both Democrats — including President Obama — and Republicans that their side had not been tough enough.


If you really want to know why voters keep dumping incumbents of both parties and registering an alarming disdain for Washington generally, then go back and watch a scene from last night’s Republican debate in Iowa.


Specifically, fast forward to somewhere around the 48-minute mark, when the moderator, Bret Baier, asked the eight candidates on stage whether any of them would walk away from a “real spending cuts deal” that required one dollar in new tax revenue for every 10 dollars’ worth of reductions. To put this in perspective, Mr. Baier’s hypothetical deal, if it entailed rescinding the Bush-era tax cuts only on Americans earning more than $1 million annually, would yield something like $6 trillion in spending cuts — a lot more than anyone is actually talking about.


And yet every one of the Republican candidates instantly and emphatically raised his or her hand, as if Mr. Baier had just asked whether they liked puppies or whether they had voted for Ronald Reagan. Not a single candidate gave any hint that he or she would even entertain such a totally one-sided compromise.
In other words, all the candidates were essentially saying that they wouldn’t embrace fiscal reform if it included even a penny of additional taxation. No compromise could possibly be favorable enough to earn their support.

 I don't have much to say about the actual debates.  What I do think is interesting is how the media finds ways to have it both ways on the front page of their paper. 

Sometime over the next few weeks I'll get around to writing my rationality posts, where I'll offer some thoughts on what is going on here.  The basics of my view is that both perspectives are not dwelling sufficiently on how both narratives interact.  I think this needs more explanation and thinking through to refine it, but what I'm getting out of this is that the two viewpoints quoted above are missing the links that result in observers drawing such different lessons from essentially similar data.  I see a growing dichotomy between worldviews happening here with moderates on both sides feeling that it is more important to compromise temporarily in order to further their agenda while extremists see it as necessary to prioritize adherence to ideology over tactical compromise.

But, even if moderates are in the majority, this doesn't really make compromise possible if both sides desire mutually exclusive endpoints.  No significant group really has a centrist ideology, at best we have some rather weak slogans like balance spending cuts with tax increases.  But lying below this, ultimate ends of compromise remain polarized.  No one is really defending this result as a good thing, or to take just one frame of it, people are seeking either equality or growth, with compromises with the other side being a necessary temporary compromise for ultimate ends, and no large group seems to be defending the idea that equality is necessary for growth and growth necessary for equality. 

Or at least that's how I'm reading what data I have.  Even the moderates willing to compromise seem to see these things as competitive trade offs rather than as symbiotic complements.  Though I should note, that I don't think the equality vs. efficiency (or growth) argument is the only one or most essential, I just happen to have read a paper on the subject recently so that's the most available frame for me at the moment.

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