As a general rule, I’m OK with compromise. Give a little to get a little and make a little progress along the way. But when the other side’s idea of compromise is you giving up on your position entirely, just throwing in the towel and letting them have their way pretty much as though you never existed, it’s time to reevaluate the game you’re playing. Maybe you’re up against something irrational, something for which the normal rules aren’t applying. In that context, maybe a zero sum victory is the only option worth your time and energy.
It’s (sort of) reassuring to see heavyweight conservatives like David Brooks of The New York Times finally concede that today’s Republican party really is something qualitatively different from the one we’ve called “Republican” most of the years of its existence. Said Brooks this past weekend, “… the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative. The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.”
I’m happy for Brook’s (very) late-dawning realization. Some of us have been saying this since the ascendancy of Bush 43, and screaming it since Barack Obama’s election and the strategy of seamless obstruction that has followed.
It is more than just ironical that Mark Dayton’s dilemma in Minnesota is a micro-foreshadowing of Obama’s in DC. I never thought the former would be in a position to lead the latter into essentially the same pitched battle. But so it is. Dayton of course has a personal immunity that Obama lacks, since he has stated he’s not much interested in reelection (or at least any other elected job after this one.) By this time next year, the country will need Obama in the White House (notice how I didn’t say “in charge”) even more than it does now. If the nation defaults as a result of the modern GOP’s nihilistic governance we’re in for a far worse episode of financial Armageddon than 23,000 unemployed state workers, battered women with nowhere to go, etc.
(Actually, “nihilism” is being generous. Elected Republicans do most definitely believe in something: Staying connected to the money lines that got them where they are.)
Dayton though is a unique moral situation. He is a guy with a conscience. He does grasp the connection between ethics and social liberalism. It is the anti-thesis of Ayn Rand for a reason. But he is also a guy who essentially bought himself this job. He ignored his party’s admittedly ossified candidate selection process, and (once again) invested millions out of his own checkbook, held up under a Tea Party wavelet and claimed victory all the while saying his plan for correcting the disastrous malfeasance of the Pawlenty era was to “tax the rich”.
Some of us found this implausible to the point of preposterous. A year ago any consumer of political news could tell you there was no way even one Tax Oath-signing Republican was going to support such a plan. Likewise, the chance of more than a handful of the DFL caucus showing spine enough to vote “yea” on new taxes, even on “just the wealthy”, was going to be exceedingly small. But that was Dayton’s bold promise.
So now he has to win this thing. A “compromise”, where the wealthy, the percentage of 1% who have not only not suffered since 2008 but greatly enhanced their fortunes via the “increased productivity” of their (fewer) employees, the canniness of their tax accountants and their access to the guys who ran the casinos that melted down, escape any additional sharing of their impressive good fortune is not going to cut it. A “compromise” built around expanding the sales tax, paid by unemployed bricklayer and Minnetonka hedge fund manager alike, is not going to cut it. A “compromise” that further “de-contents” schools of teachers and curriculum isn’t going to cut it.
Dayton’s campaign position was $4 billion in new revenue out of the wealthy. That number, via reevaluation and compromise is now down to around $1.4 or $1.2.
I accept that his strategy was to start at $4 billion and bargain down to something less, while lifting the base line definition of “wealthy” up higher and higher. (The bottom end has risen from $150,000/year — the GOP’s “every cop and nurse” scenario — to $1 million). That seemed fairly standard, except that everyone knew there was no way the GOP was going to accept … anything. The new GOP is imbued with religious authority. They hand out copies of the Constitution at 4th of July parades. God and Grover Norquist hear their prayers every evening, (and then Bradlee Dean leads them in new ones in the morning, before what they straight-facedly refer to as “work”.)
Dayton can not be “stunned” or “surprised” or “disappointed” by the situation he finds himself in. It is the only situation that was ever possible given an opponent for whom childlike (or religious, or alcoholic) delusion is the first, last and only response. Put another way, Dayton has had well over a year to contemplate a strategy to defeat this position. If it is an elegant, witty, cri de couer for sanity and respect for the common good slathered across every TV screen and billboard in the state … well, it’s a little on the late side, but I’d get that going tonight.
Improbably, Minnesota and Mark Dayton are, for a moment, the vanguard of a battle for the primary goal of our era — the protection and resurrection of the American middle class — the “customer class” to the wealthy if you prefer.
Losing this one is not an option.