Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to compromise with a conservative

I find Digby's description of conservative behavior quite sad. All too true, but extremely sad. Let me excerpt a few items from her recent post:
In my previous post, I discussed the fact that a "cold civil war" between two distinct American tribes has been going on since the founding of the Republic. It waxes and wanes and takes on different character, but it is always simmering, beneath the surface.

The ressentiment that fuels the conservative tribe is taking one of its forays into internecine purges, something that both tribes engage in from time to time, but which the conservatives have turned into one of its purifying rituals. Stubborn insistence on conformity of thought and complete capitulation of the other side is one of its tenets, and always has been. Indeed, its one of their prime motivating impulses.

[highlighting mine - Editor WTF-o]
Digby then quotes from a speech by Abraham Lincoln delivered at the Cooper Union in 1860. Lincoln was facing threats by a very similar group of conservatives.
Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events...

Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action?

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me — my money — was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another...Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated — we must place ourselves avowedly with them.
Digby then continues to provide the comparison of current conservative behavior with that of the Southern confederates in 1860:
Just as it was when the resentment tribe called itself the confederacy, today's conservatives are not content with anything less than conversion. To that end they will happily obstruct any initiative that gives them less than total victory. They filibuster even when it doesn't make sense, just to keep their record untainted with compromise. They insist, as they recently did with immigration reform, for instance, that nothing less than total capitulation to their position will do. It is not enough that politicians or civic leaders agree to build their wall while providing a path to citizenship. They must agree that undocumented workers will be forced out of the country and join them in making it a national crusade. And this must be done thoroughly — done in acts as well as words.

Silence will not be tolerated — they must place themselves avowedly with them.
I do not object so much to the ideas proposed by conservatives as I do to their "My way of the highway" attitudes and refusal to accept any compromise or accommodation. The fulminations of conservative talk show hosts and the ultra-conservative Club for Growth people against John McCain, a man who is as conservative as any politician in Congress, is one example.

But it's not just their refusal to compromise. It is the Bush administration's process of making decisions in the dark of night or behind security classification barriers so that no one can know what they are, why they were necessary, or who they effect that is equally bad. This is a tool they use so that they will not be questioned and do not have to justify their decisions, let alone be asked to compromise on them.

Then, once they have secrecy to hide behind and their refusal to compromise, on top of that is the practice of flat outright lying, as they did with the entire WMD justification for the invasion of Iraq and as Dick Cheney has been doing to try to gin up support for military action against Iran. It is clear from the recent NIE that the threats that Cheney has claimed we face from Iran and which he repeats as justification for military action against Iran simply don't exist.

Similar conservative behavior has prevented America from adopting universal health care since Harry Truman proposed it in 1948, and the problems that single payer universal health care would deal with have continually gotten worse for the last six decades. The conservatives are masters at using Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt to forestall any action they themselves do not propose. Since their motivations tend to rarely go beyond personal enrichment to occasional military adventures to expand U.S. international trade and political control, they stop all efforts to make America a better place for Americans who do not belong to their tribe.

So to answer the question that started this article "How to compromise with a conservative," the answer is simple. You join them and accept their often irrational and self-serving proposals until one of their think tanks changes them and then you accept the new one as thought the older one never existed. Because that's as far as a conservative will move towards compromise. Not an inch.

The earlier post by Digby needs to be read. In it she explains the history of the two American tribes whose current political strife is just another in the long history of strife.
I still see this as a continuation of the battle that has raged in our country since its inception, a battle between the two warring American tribes. Those two tribes originally broke down on geographical lines, North vs. South, but have since evolved into something much more complex, beyond just class or region or race, although it has elements of all three. Underlying all the "issues" of any given era is the notion of moral righteousness and inferiority, ressentiment, that stemmed from the original sin of slavery and created two American "tribes" which operate reflexively under certain recurring impulses.
In that post, Digby explains why we are still battling the issues and methods that grew out of the great American tragedy of Slavery. The U.S. Civil War is not over. It simply has moved into a Cold War status in which the issues are sources of political conflict.

Earlier, Rick Perlstein wrote an excellent article, published in the Washington Post on February 3rd. In it he explains why Barack Obama will not be able to move America beyond the current level of extremist and irrational conflict, no matter what he promises.

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