WHEN I was in Minneapolis this summer, covering the dueling Netroots Nation and RightOnline conferences, I was mulling the thought that America's fractious political discourse would proceed a little more smoothly if partisans would agree to find and confess to at least one issue where they disagree with their side. I'm convinced that everyone has at least one. So there I was, feeling all high-minded, and I ran into a very prominent right-wing blogger. I asked him whether there were any issues where he agrees with the left and he said, "Fisting!" And I said, "Sorry?" And he said, "Fisting."

In other words, this may be overly naive, but I do wish that people were more forthright about their non-doctrinaire views. Acknowledging as much would help us abandon the conceit that policy divides are intractable, and get past the self-defeating notion that collaborating with the other party on issues where the overlap clearly exists constitutes some kind of betrayal of the home team or freebie for the opponent.

So I enjoyed this exchange, at the New York Times, between columnists David Brooks and Gail Collins, in which, riffing off the Occupy Wall Street protests, they volunteer some concessions to the other side in the interest of fostering a more productive discourse. Collins gives the terms of the exercise:

...Let’s set a good example for those irresponsible people who actually do have power and are doing nothing but dithering and passing legislation to free the cement plants from the harsh boot heel of the Environmental Protection Agency. I’ll give something up that the left wants to protect, and you give up something on behalf of the right. Just as an exercise, to show it can be done.

When Brooks and Collins say they're giving something up, they mean they're giving up political points, rather than offering a substantive sacrifice. In some cases, the concession is offered because they think the other side is actually correct. Brooks calls for more aid to the states: "In this time of economic slowdown, it probably makes sense for the feds to borrow some money and give it to the states to avoid layoffs." On other examples, the concession is given with the caveat that it doesn't mean much. In giving up on tort reform, Collins adds that she thinks it's a red herring: "I don’t believe this will do anything much to bring down health care costs."

I think there's a third category of concessions: issues where a partisan might think the other party is wrong, but nonetheless conclude that the other party cares so much about the issue that it's not worth fighting over indefinitely. This might be controversial, but I would put voter identification in that group. Republicans are silly to say that people are voting fraudulently, and Democrats are correct that voter ID laws have an adverse effect on turnout, which is undesirable. However, people already have to show who they are when they vote, and no one is arguing that that requirement is overly burdensome. The objection from Democrats is that a lot of people don't have a government-issued photo ID--as many as 12% of eligible voters, according to the Brennan Center. To me, that seems like the bigger problem. Having a state-issued photo ID card is useful in a lot of contexts, like opening a bank account, for example, so I would think that Democrats would want people to have one, even if they don't need it to vote. In fact, if states required photo IDs to vote, I imagine that would spur an increase in the number of people with photo IDs, as Democrats would presumably launch a campaign to that end. Even if a concession represents a genuine sacrifice, there may be some positive outcomes for the concessor.

Will M
10/13/2011 07:27

Well, that's certainly one way to drive traffic.

10/13/2011 11:42

I would have slapped that "prominent right-wing blogger" if I were you.

Anyway, this caught my eye: "Republicans are silly to say that people are voting fraudulently, and Democrats are correct that voter ID laws have an adverse effect on turnout, which is undesirable."

1) Why are Republicans silly to say "that people are voting fraudulently"? Do you know with certainty they aren't (especially in big cities)?

2) More interestingly, why do you think "an adverse effect on turnout" is "undesirable"? Why do you want goofballs who can't figure out how to get an ID voting for anything?

10/13/2011 13:11

I have about a 70/30 bias when it comes to reading political though on the left/right, but there's plenty of people from the right I agree with.

The problem, though, is that politics is tribal, and that problem is likely to get worse, given phenomena like the Big Sort (Bishop), before we return any form of solidarity.

What I would be curious to know, building off your second point, is whether the two sides could agree on institutional or structural reforms. For example, I would be okay with eliminating the national gas tax altogether in exchange for setting up metropolitan authorities that have more control over setting tolls, regional gas taxes, etc.

My sense is that our strongly polarized country is, for better and worse, neutered by the small rural state bias of the U.S. Senate, making it all but impossible to achieve the goals that the right and left share, and endlessly frustrate partisans on both sides.

10/14/2011 07:51

A note from a poll-worker under 100, people forgetting what they needed at the polls can really back up the line. People complaining that anyone can claim to be someone else when they vote only costs in that you have to smile at a smirk.

But ok, I'll give this up to the other side, whoever wants to be on it.


Your comment will be posted after it is approved.

Leave a Reply.