Seeking Common Chasm

President Obama purports to seek common ground between his aspirations and those of the Republicans. “Common ground” is one of those dead or expiring metaphors Orwell warned us against, but under close inspection, it may be of interest. The Republicans have their turf, he has his, and some Democrats & Tea Party folk have theirs. Using this metaphor, the President ostensibly sees turf he and the Republicans can share and–well, how do we extend the metaphor? Do they plant a garden on that turf? We’d better stop there.

The Republicans pretend to see no common ground because they appear to perceive value in a zero-sum game, so that the turf is a battle-ground, and their object is to limit the turf Obama occupies and, if all goes well, take turf away from him. A concrete example: Senate Republicans block judicial nominations, the START treaty, and all manner of legislation–not because they are against these but because they are against Obama.

Dimly, I seem to remember a time of both/and, when politics was both a kind of war and a place where people of different parties might work together on policy. Orrin Hatch used to work with Ted Kennedy, for example.

The game now seems just about winning, and nothing else. President Obama certainly seems to be facing some consequences thereof; he is catching hell from several directions. The Republicans, however, seem not to be facing consequences. Their constituents seemed pleased with what’s often described as a broken Senate. They apparently want their “representatives” to get nothing done except the thwarting of Obama–oh, and tax-cuts and military-spending.

Meanwhile, Boehner of the House insists he won’t “compromise,” and he even weeps about it. Is he drunk when he weeps? It’s a fair question.

In this climate, it is too much to hope for compromise, a tricky word. “Her health was compromised by watching cable TV,” we might say, in which compromise is bad.

But then there is compromise as in settling differences so as to achieve something worthwhile. Here are the roots, from the OED, and by way of the OED, from Sam Johnson’s dictionary:

1679 T. Puller Moderation Church of Eng. iv. (1843) 35 When time serves, they that make the difference can compromise it.
1755 Johnson Dict. Eng. Lang. (at cited word), To compound; to adjust a compact by mutual concessions: as, they compromised the affair at a middle rate.

With the nation in such rough shape, the Republicans’ game seems deadly. President Obama may be no day at the beach (speaking of metaphors that have spent too much time in the sun), but he does seem to want to get stuff done. Like health-care, mangled though the final product was. Like a START treaty. Like appointing judges; we do need judges, and appointing them is his job. Is it fair to say that the Republicans oppose the president’s constitutional responsibilities? I think it is. I think they are reckless–nihilistic, perhaps–which (thank God) makes me think of the nihilist in the swimming pool in The Big Lebowski.

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