The hubris of inflexible principles — issue arrogance

Less than 1 percent of taxpayers would face a tax increase. The out-of-control Alternate Minimum Tax would become a relic of history. Dividend and capital gains tax rates would not rise. Sounds like a proposal that the Republicans would enthusiastically support, especially following a Presidential loss and after losing seats in the Senate and the House. But a relatively small element within the Tea Party caucus denied leader Boehner the votes he needed to pass such a bill. Even low tax mavens Paul Ryan and Grover Norquist gave the legislation their blessing. It would have called the President’s bluff by conceding on a small tax increase for those earning over a million dollars while making one important tax reform and maintaining the Bush cuts for more than 99 percent of taxpayers. I know it would not have passed in the Senate but it would have placed the Republicans in a far better position than where they stand today.

How about modest adjustments to Social Security by way of more accurately measuring inflation, a gradual increase in the qualifying age for benefits and some modest means testing? Democratic left wing nuts reject these reasonable steps that would preserve Social Security for our children. They also ferociously object to any changes in Medicare and Medicaid, both of which are on the path to insolvency.

This kind of intransigence does have a remedy. But since we have President Hubris-In-Chief, irrational defiance persists and a remedy will remain elusive. In the good old days when ideological purity was not in residence in the White House, politics was played as a game of genuine compromise, understanding something called the greater good. The key element in finding accommodation has traditionally been a President who leads. He’d call together leadership from both parties. He’d employ his immense prestige to peal off votes from the extremes in both parties for compromise in the people’s interest. Having established good relationships with members of the other party the President would nurture trust and compromise.

Make no mistake about it; the President is the moving party in the budget fiasco. He does not demonstrate leadership by making speeches offering selected constituencies’ goodies, inciting class divisions and crafting rhetorically vacuous platitudes for public consumption. The President is expert in this style of political conflict. But the unpublicized, behind-the-scenes activity for the good of the people, where public bravado and acclamation don’t count, can’t be found among Mr. Obama’s talents.

As arrogant as the President appears to be, I have to say there are those from both extremes who share that unattractive characteristic. They call it principles. I call it issue arrogance.

Presidential power complemented by good relations with leadership from the other side of the aisle, in conjunction with a desire to truly do the people’s business, leads to crafting grand compromise out of inflexible positions. The President has had years, as a senator and president, to establish the personal relationships that are critical when hard choices need to be made. Having instead led largely by fiat, Mr. Obama never laid a foundation for comity. As a consequence, the extremes are seeded veto power.

Michael Hayutin