Archive for category Backbone

On Compromise and Capitulation

In my cross post of last Sunday’s article regarding the Rules for Republicans (as sited on the Oregon Tea Party website) titled “Wow. Just Wow.”, this comment on my sparked my attention:

And yet you don’t have to browse (1+ / 0-)

around on this forum for very long to see the mirror image of that attitude among some commenters here, only they believe these things about Republicans as a group.

These are the people who decry the Obama administration for negotiating and compromising with Republicans in Congress in order to pass legislation.

I agree with you, that people with this attitude are an obstacle to progress, but we should recognize that they’re on the left as well as on the right.

While there certainly are people in the Daily Kos community who do believe the flip of the Rules for Republicans about Republicans, I’m not sure why the commenter chose to state that these are the same people who “decry Obama for negotiating and compromising with Republicans in Congress in order to pass legislation.” I certainly believe that while Republicans in Congress are wretched, I don’t believe that the average Republican voter is. As stated in last week’s post, I tend to find them “misguided, deluded, inaccurate, lacking the facts or simpleminded”, but not evil. I do however fault Obama and the Democratic leadership for willingly undermining the “Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” So I responded:

When compromise is unnecessary (0+ / 0-)

…then why use it? At this point, with Republicans in control of the House, compromise is necessary, but when Dems had a 60 seat majority in the Senate and control of the House and Presidency, why compromise with Republicans? Why even talk to their side if they’re ultimately unwilling to vote for the legislation? We’d get better policy which would result in better political outcomes. There is also a difference between compromise and capitulation.

to which said commenter then replied:

Of course Democrats never really had (0+ / 0-)

a 60 seat majority. They had for a brief time after Franken was seated, 58 Dems, 1 socialist and 1 Lieberman. And before that, they had 57 Dems, 1 socialist and 1 Lieberman. And of those Dems, a good block of them were/are weevily backsliders.

As I recall, Lieberman threatened to block health care reform if there was a public option in it. Health care reform got watered down largely through having to negotiate with Democrats in the Senate, not the Republicans!

Honestly, I really get tired of hearing people complain about compromise being capitulation. From my experience in negotations as a lawyer, this criticism strikes me more as a sound bite cliche rather than an accurate description of the results.

The first point here, while accurate, is a nit pick. I was referring to the Democratic caucus which includes Sanders (not really a problematic guy) and Lieberman (a tremendous pain in the ass). The second point is also true, the Dems had to negotiate with the Dems, but they also for some inexplicable reason (perhaps to “appear reasonable”?) brought Republicans into the discussion. The third point is what really rose my eyebrows. I think a lot of people don’t understand the difference between compromise and capitulation.

Here’s the New Oxford American Dictionary definition of Compromise:

Compromise, n. an agreement or settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.


Here’s the definition of Capitulation:

Capitulation, n. the action of surrendering or ceasing to resist an opponent or demand.

As you can see, a compromise is based on mutual respect and mutual power. Activist organizations engage in direct action campaigns to alter a power relationship. When a corporation, for instance, has all the power and abusing a community, there’s not much an individual can do about it, but if a lot of community members organize, they can start to challenge the corporation’s actions because they’ve altered the power balance. If they negotiate first, they will lose because they have not demonstrated their power, and are therefore not considered worthy of compromise. However, when they use this power to shut down a store, pursue a crippling boycott, or participate in mass demonstrations, the opposition suddenly views them as worthy of concessions. While it does not succeed in all cases, it is almost always better than doing nothing at all.

Organizations, politicians and constituencies capitulate when they have not demonstrated power, even if they have all the power in the world. This is where both Obama and those of us on the left failed in the health care debate. We were fractious (as usual) and sedentary. The right was united in their opposition and vocal. They dominated the news and won the publicity battle. While Obama did eventually pass a weak bill that included the moronic individual mandate, he had an opportunity (an I would say a responsibility) to lead and he failed. Had he taken a position on the issue and fought for it, the outcome would’ve been a more robust reform package, a more energized base, and a demoralized opposition. This could’ve been a home run.

So here’s my response:

When you start from a weak position… (0+ / 0-)

you’re negotiating at a disadvantage. Obama took “single payer” or “medicare for all” off the table from the get go. This worsens the bargaining position. He also didn’t fight. Compromise is not always necessary (or at least not to such an extreme). I know Lieberman and the corporate Dems are/were the issue, but why not go to Connecticut, Montana, North Dakota, etc. and stump for the strongest possible plan instead of just saying, “well, we can’t do it if Joe/Max/Kent don’t want to go along.”?

Obama’s unwillingness to fight for progressive policy on anything is what makes him a capitulation machine. If you fight and lose, at least you’ve fought and the people would have your back. But negotiating out of the gate is a recipe for failed policy and bad political outcomes. The president is responsible for generating a strong negotiating position for his desired policy. He must take it upon himself to get out there and generate the pressure on those dissenting voices within his own party and the opposition. He did so against Kucinich, so I know he knows how. This only leads me to the conclusion that weak policy is what he had in mind in the first place, so capitulation was not only the outcome, it was the game plan.

The difference between compromise and capitulation is in a compromise, both sides get some things they like, but nobody gets everything and a capitulation is when one side gets most or all of what they like and the other side gets very little or none of what they want. The difference is determined by how one side is seen by the other side of the negotiation. If you are seen as weak, the outcome will be capitulation to all of the demands of the other side (in this case, the insurance industry and their bought off congress critters on both sides of the aisle), if you are seen as strong, you may in the end compromise, but you’d get a lot more out of the deal then a complete cave in and abdication of your values.

Some progressives say that the health reform measure was good. Some say it was better than nothing. I agree with the latter, but just barely. The individual mandate is a corporate giveaway and a politically toxic idea (witness how it was used in 2010). Obama and therefore the Dem leadership started from a weak position, lessened that position by not fighting and eventually came up with a plan that would enrich the insurance companies and help mobilize the right while demoralizing the left. You can call it what you will, but I call it capitulation.

While compromise is sometimes necessary, it is not always. Many times we can attain a better policy and more positive political outcomes through standing by our highest values of justice, equality and liberty.

Cross Posted on Daily Kos.


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