Politicians are always pledging to work across the aisle, but it never happens. Voters decry the inability of politicians to act in a bipartisan manner, but their frustration is fruitless. And political commentators wonder why liberals and conservatives can’t compromise, and why Democrats and Republicans can’t work together for the good of the country?
The question indicates a surprising ignorance of the current state of American politics and a lack of honesty about how political partisans view each other.
For the most part, conservatives believe that the current economic woes of the nation are almost solely caused by liberal policies. So the conservative solution is to roll back these policies. The solution to the stagnant economy is to gut environmental and work place safety regulations that burden business, and eliminate social welfare programs that are a disincentive to work. The solution to our current economic woes, according to conservatives, is to repeal virtually every liberal program since the New Deal.
Many conservative also believe that liberal policies have largely destroyed America. And a significant number believe that liberals have enacted these harmful policies because they are depraved. They believe liberals are evil. Sean Hannity wrote a book a few years ago called “Deliver us from Evil.” The evil he spoke of was liberalism.
In general, liberals believe that our current economic woes are almost solely caused by conservative economic policies. Banks crashed and brought down the world economy because of banking deregulation of the 1990’s. The growing disparity between the rich and the poor is the by-product of massive tax cuts to the wealthy and gutting of the social safety net. They listen to conservatives call Obama a tyrant in one breath and a dithering incompetent in the next, or call him both a Nazi and a communist, and they can’t help but believe that conservatives are crazy. They see conservatives deny basic scientific facts, like evolution and global warming, and they are convinced that most conservatives are morons.
The cause of the lack of compromise isn’t that Democrats and Republicans have different ideas about how to solve pressing national issues. Common ground can be found in competing policy proposals. And it is not just that liberals and conservative want very different things. Even ideas that are 180 degrees apart on the political spectrum are still on the same line, and there is some middle ground on that line. No, the problem is that each side is convinced that the other is nefarious, has evil motives, and is purposefully acting to harm the nation.
The problem is that far too many conservatives believe that liberals are evil. And how can you compromise with an evil? The plain answer is that you can’t. Liberals, for their part, have become convinced that conservatives are either crazy or completely stupid. How do you reason with a moron? How do you find middle ground with a crazy person? Again the answer is that you can’t.
This mutual antipathy is a barrier to bipartisanship. Our inability to understand the hostility and our unwillingness to talk about it only makes that barrier harder to surmount.