Are there two less understood concepts in the lexicon? “Ideology” derives from the “science of ideas” and “philosophy of the mind”. “Compromise” derives from “a mutual promise”. In our post modern usage, ideology is usually depicted as bad and compromise as good. The current media blockbuster of the Supreme Court’s narrow 5 to 4 decision to uphold Obamacare is a case in point. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, a hybrid compromise of sorts allowed the ill advised, cumbersome law to stand. At least temporarily.
Some conservatives took some consolation in the Court ruling definitively that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution could not justify Congress passing legislation that coerced a private commerce transaction (i.e. purchasing health insurance). This is a tinny and Pyrrhic small victory. However, the Court decreed, Congress, under its constitutional powers, could tax those not buying insurance. As Justice Antonin Scalia scathingly noted during the hearings on the bill, if a law citing the Commerce Clause could order a citizen to buy health insurance, what would prevent a law being passed under similar rationale to order us to buy broccoli? Or, I suppose, to not buy sugary drinks, eight cylinder cars or microwave ovens.
Under this ruling, the Commerce Clause cannot be used to order us to not buy microwaves, but it could tax us into impecuniousness for doing it. The Supreme Court put its imprimatur on all such future laws and widely exposed us to incursions through the tax code on any liberty inconvenient to a social agenda. The Supreme Court rewrote what the legislature did by declaring the mandate a tax, which the legislators and the President explicitly denied that it was on many occasions during its debate. We haven’t seen such blatant judicial legislating and constitutional rework since Roe v Wade. Charles Krauthammer called the Court’s tortured reasoning a “great finesse”.
This convoluted compromise performed a Heimlich maneuver on bloated legislation, but it left proponents with all the unresolved problems of the bill. Obamacare now has been deemed by the highest court in the land as the biggest tax increase in our lifetimes, again something the President promised over and over he would not do to anyone making under $250,000. Obamacare, even with the huge tax increase, will still add to our deficit a staggering one trillion dollars over its first ten years. Obamacare will add millions to the lists of the insured through its provisions, and according to an exhaustive Price Waterhouse study, raise insurance premiums for the average family by 40%. Since it will be far cheaper for the young and healthy to pay the tax than to buy insurance, and because they now can sign up for insurance at any time irrespective of their health and previous conditions, what will prevent them from waiting to buy it until insurance is a desperate and expensive necessity? Nothing.
The economic underpinning of the bill relies on the assumption that younger, healthy people will buy policies and support the expenses of the old and sick. Of course, the solution would be to raise the penalty tax even higher, and the authors of the new bastardized system clearly love taxes.
Occasionally compromise is not possible without splitting the baby in two in some Solomonic solution. How, for instance, is it possible to reconcile a fundamental divide on an idea such as “fairness”? For many, fairness involves a person getting to keep, spend and reinvest the gains earned by their hard work, risk, intellect and talent. When President Obama was asked by Charlie Gibson of ABC News in 2008, “If you knew – not believed, but knew — that lowering the capital gains tax rate would raise more (tax) revenue (through increased economic activity), would you still favor raising them?” Obama answered that he would because of “fairness”. OK, then. Explain, please, how a “moderate independent” would find a principled compromise for this gap in the very understanding of the concept of fairness. Or abortion (a baby is a baby only some of the time)? Or racist policies such as ‘affirmative action’ (it’s ok to discriminate in favor of some minorities, but not in favor of others)?
A compromise trying to gap that deep a divide of standards is like both camps starting from either side of a ten mile ravine to build a bridge. Each builds five miles and stops, waiting for the other. The complication is that they started fifty miles apart on their side of the abyss. Both get to the end of their side of the bridge with nowhere to go and no plan to complete the span. (Thanks to Jonah Goldberg’s new book, “The Tyranny of Cliché’s” for the metaphor.)
If compromise is not always good, how about ideology? Ideology is often depicted as akin to some unidentified sticky substance under our shoes in a discount movie theater. Originally the word connoted a worldview: a set of learned suppositions and principles based on experience and observation that informs our decisions and understanding. Edmund Burke, the Irish born long serving British House of Commons member, is remembered as a strong supporter of the American Revolution and passionate opponent of the French version. He decried the blood-spattered extremes of Jacobin ideology and was the intellectual father of modern conservatism. Burke perceived all “ideology” as the province of Utopian madness determined to create a man made Heaven on earth, sort of a political religion based on the fallacy of the perfectibility of man. Not really dissimilar to how many conservatives view leftish ideology even today.
A radical ideology renders a left leaning partisan obviously incapable of holding a reasonable idea not based on totalitarian impulse.
More recently, it is the left that decries the ideology of conservatives as bigoted, if not actually racist, small minded and reactionary – certainly not “progressive” or “pragmatic”, which is a code word for utilitarian ethics. A benighted ideology renders a conservative obviously incapable of holding a reasonable idea not based on “clutching their guns and Bibles”.
Just as some ideas are bad and some are good, so similarly are ideologies. Is it reasonable to conjure up ghosts of Himmler and Hitler when debating those who expound a worldview that favors smaller government, personal responsibility and fewer subsidies based on race? (The dogmatic error that Nazism was other than a movement of the Left notwithstanding.) Is it reasonable to allude to Lenin or Mao when debating those who insist that government should solve complex problems with higher taxes, deficit budgets and bureaucratic mandates? Would it not be a step up for all to take a step back, articulate our ideas without invective and do the best we can in good faith to understand other American’s ideas with the assumption that the loyal opposition is just that? Perhaps we can find no compromises without abrogating our principles, but we can treat each other with civility and respect.
“Every social order rests on an ideology.” Friedrich Hayek