Opponent or Something Else?

April 11, 2011

It has amused me that many people who are eager to talk up compromise and bipartisanship are also more than willing to cast certain groups into outer darkness and decry the idea of talking or listening to them at all. You don't hear much call among mainstream journalists to listen to what al Qaeda is saying, or the Taliban, or even to Communist parties in other nations. Their ideas are beyond the pale. But how was it decided that they're out there?

I myself think there are sensible positions between accepting someone, or some group, as a full negotiating partner and declaring him, or them, to be enemies irrevocably. But to find that workable position you need to determine, with reasonable accuracy, who and what that opponent is. Americans are not very good at doing that and the leaders of the Democratic Party are particularly pathetic in that respect. Democrats, for example, continue to accept Republicans as though they were the same sort of political creatures as the Republicans who supported Dwight Eisenhower. But over the past quarter-century, the Republican Party has transmogrified. I don't know how anyone could deny that, and since it's the case, then the Democrats' interaction with Republicans ought to be different from what it once was.

The president of the United States seems unwilling to face the change and thinks he can negotiate with John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan as though they were latter day Everett Dirksens. But they are not persons of Mr. Dirksen's stripe nor do they represent the kind of goals he did.

It is sad but it is also true that upon occasion certain sectors of a national population can become toxic. We have seen it happen often in history so it shouldn't be considered radical to say so. Yet at the moment it remains outside the bounds of respectability to say who the Republicans have become.

It is true that persons with noxious attitudes can in other respects be decent and loving persons. The people among whom I grew up were, almost without exception, arrant racists. They made no effort to deny it. But they were the only people available to me to love, so I loved them. And I love many of them still. I have no desire to harm them. I wish them well. But, on the other hand, I have no reason to compromise with them about their racist desire or to enter into negotiations with them about it. Their racist programs, however they're disguised, should be defeated not mitigated. I regret being forced to say that I now view Republicans about as I once viewed my racist friends and associates. Republicans too should be defeated.  I am willing to see that defeat muted as much as possible. I don't want it to be celebrated with bands and speeches. But it does need to be accomplished.

Right now the Democratic Party can't distinguish between what should be accommodated and what should be defeated. And that makes the party very weak.

I am saying things here that a politician can't say because a politician has to be respectable -- or, at least, we once thought so. But a politician could certainly understand the nature of the current political contest in America and could base his actions, if not his rhetoric, on that understanding. That's what I would like to see more Democrats do.

The GOP is now a party of white privilege, corporate greed, expansive militarism, and destructive views about science and nature. None of those things are healthy for us. There's no profit in finding middle ground with them. They should be banished from our national life. Getting rid of them is not going to be easy. It will inevitably produce much resentment. But the difficulties don't justify running away from the task.

If, at times, official Republicans should come forward with productive ideas, then they can be accommodated. We don't have to reject a person just because of his or her party label. But when programs emerge from the four motives mentioned above they are not candidates for compromise.

I can see some of my friends smiling at the naiveté of thinking that a political party could be as disciplined as I am calling for the Democrats to be. And my skeptical friends are right, in a way. The Democrats are not going to be as calm, as reasonable, as determined as I would like to see them. Nor are they going to avoid corruption and foolish thinking. But if among them there were a core of figures who would see things are they are, and plot a tough-minded strategy for dealing confidently with what is, they could make a difference. They might bring off a few useful victories and defeats, which would make a significant difference in the nature of the country.
I wish I could believe that the president of the United States is one of those persons. My view of the chance of his being one has slipped from sixty percent down to ten. But ten percent is better than nothing.

©John R. Turner

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