Politics, old-style politics, may play a vital role in surviving our current chaos.
What is politics, anyway? The art of politics is at the heart of public service.
Politics combines skills of governing, actions of statecraft, and the exercise of civic duty. Politics is how our counties, cities, states, and nations establish and implement policy, write and enforce rules / norms / laws, and otherwise pursue governing roles and powers. What do you want to accomplish? What do I want to accomplish? What can we agree on, if these goals are different? Politics always involves balancing acts and compromise – or else it fails. We are too heterogeneous a society for it to be otherwise.
Recently, allegedly polished politicians failed to accomplish their attempt to ‘repeal and replace‘ the Affordable Care Act (ACA), precisely because of their inability to contextualize and compromise. It was a strange debacle and it made for some very strange bedfellows, as old-style politics is wont to do. All congressional democratic members lined up to vote no for a host of reasons, such as not wanting 24 million Americans to lose insurance coverage for the sake of rhetoric that may (or may not) have cost them control of the White House as well as both houses of congress. Hospitals and other medical associations opposed ACA repeal, based on how it would jeopardize vulnerable populations‘ ability to access care. And a slew of republican representatives opposed their own Speaker’s proposal, feeling that it did not strip enough of the ACA’s new baseline of coverage.
For a while the national rhetoric seemed as though it might shift. However, the republicans’ alternative, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), stuck to a draconian bottom line. Its proponents ignore accumulated benefits across the landscape created by ‘Obamacare.’ Whether AHCA stays dead, or somehow gets resurrected for another try, remains to be seen. If the coalition opposing it the first time all stand their ground, it stands no chance. If any factions within that coalition change their stance, then the AHCA or perhaps something even worse stands a solid chance of destabilizing our health care system and jeopardizing our citizens’ health and security. The strange bedfellows that defeated the AHCA need to hang together. We need politics right now, not dogmatism.
No matter that various elements opposed this version of ACA repeal for different reasons. Because they all opposed repeal, the repeal went down in defeat. Our local congressional representative stepped out against his party leadership to vote against the AHCA, although he remains committed to trying to repeal the ACA. He opposed the AHCA as a far-right conservative. Some local progressives now want to ‘use this’ against him in upcoming campaigns. We could not disagree more. Our representative voted the way we wanted. He voted no for very different reasons than we would have voted no. However, if we wait around for people to agree with us for the right reasons, we will never achieve what we need in the legislature, and in our government. Those who do so are behaving like a freedom caucus of the left. That is precisely the kind of thinking that brings us gridlock, not governance.
If we refuse to stand together when people share our position, what hope have we of governing ourselves? We should accept yes for an answer, when it is available. We need not agree with someone on everything, in order to agree with them on anything. That lies at the heart of old-school politics. We cannot judge the entirety of a person’s character, nor predict their every move, based on the letter in parentheses behind their name. People who wish politics were less polarized sometimes reminisce about people like Tip O’Neill. Guess how he got a reputation for bipartisan cooperation? By working across the aisle, of course. While we will oppose our representative when he takes positions with which we disagree in future, just as we have done in the past, we must be grown enough to acknowledge and appreciate him when he takes positions with which we agree. This is what it means to love democracy.
Keep the faith. Keep in touch.