In a spectacle that is tragic for a few reasons, the best summation of our country’s political ills of late can be summed up in a recent series of tweets. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Cal., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a rising star in the center-left, delineated the catastrophes that would occur if TrumpCare were implemented as written at the time. Schiff’s assessments were largely from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, whose director was handpicked by Speaker Paul Ryan.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., the Senate Majority Whip, responded to the tweet by simply typing “Fake news.”
Like a petulant toddler putting his fingers in his ears, Cornyn revealed himself to be a sophomoric man-child incapable of any type of disagreement in good faith. More than anything else, this is endemic of the single worst problem in this country’s government. Combating it, without an eye to ideological purity, would be the Democrats’ best opportunity to regain power.
Between right-wing media echo chambers, as well as the more recent appeals to straight-up BS factories like Breitbart and InfoWars, the current standard-bearers in the Republican Party feel impervious to the consequences of blatant mendaciousness. Folks like Cornyn feel that they can lie with impunity — and for the most part they are right.
The debate over healthcare reform exemplifies this well. Of note, only the most extreme Democratic partisans would claim that Obamacare is perfect, or even without nearly-fatal flaws. It’s a troubling law with some troubling effects — rising premiums, inconvenience for physicians and limited options among them. But by any and all sober assessments, Republican plans are worse. The CBO has assessed they will hike premiums, multiply the number of uninsured and leave millions worse off.
The country ought to have reasonable discussions about these issues. But when one side negotiates in bad faith, it becomes impossible.
It happens closer to home, too. Whether it’s a good idea, for example, to cap local government spending, as the state legislature is currently discussing, falls by the wayside as proponents, unable or unwilling to defend their cockamamie ideas on the merits, simply make stuff up instead.
As I have written before, Democrats ought to be expanding their tent rather than shifting in one direction either toward the center or the left.
In 2009, Rep. Bart Stupak, a Blue Dog Democrat who represented the upper peninsula of Michigan, helped salvage Obamacare by negotiating in good faith a compromise wherein he and other anti-abortion rights Democrats would support the overhaul of the health insurance industry in exchange for President Obama signing an executive order prohibiting federal-funding of abortion throughout the new healthcare plans.
Some may think of that moment and think it was disgraceful for Stupak—who had a position out of line with the majority of Democrats—to dictate policy as such. Others may think the Democratic establishment should adopt Stupak’s, and not Obama’s, position in order to appeal to the most voters. As usual, the two extremes are wrong.
The point is that Stupak and his Blue Dog allies—nearly all of whose districts now are represented by the far-right Tea Party—were able to negotiate and argue in good faith. The country had a sober discussion about the issue, which was whether or not federal funds should pay for abortions, and a compromise was reached that allowed the most people to sign onto the important underlying legislation.
I’m a liberal (and a pretty vocally pro-choice one at that). I recognize that some of my views may be outside of the American mainstream, but that is what ostensibly was the beauty of American government. We could have grand debates wherein the best ideas, or at least the most sensible to the most people, won.
However, when entire factions reject logic and good faith arguments, the system fails. By simply sniveling “fake news” when inconvenient truths about positions are revealed, Republicans such as Cornyn reveal themselves to be utterly unfit to lead a PTA meeting, much less the United States Senate.
With Democrats hopefully being able to capitalize on the current administration’s unpopularity, I hope they create the biggest tent possible. Nominate folks on the left in New York, those in the center in suburban Georgia and even those on the center-right in the Texas panhandle and Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The biggest problem is not any one position on an issue. It is an ability—nay, a willingness—to operate, deliberate and compromise in good faith.
Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist.