There is no better argument against the two-party system than the current belligerence of Republicans and Democrats toward each other. This attitude leaves no room for collegiality or compromise; yet in a nation where most views are split nearly down the middle, compromise seems like the only possible way to move forward.
For Republicans, the touchstone politician is Ronald Reagan, viewed as the model for today’s ideal ideologue. But Reagan was no such beast. He was not only collegial with the other side, but he was also willing to give a little on one issue in order to get something on another. Taxation is one example. Reagan cut taxes when the economy called for it, but raised them when the treasury required it.
And while he pursued some questionable military adventurism (specifically, the war in Grenada and the Iran-Contra scheme), he wasn’t always monolithic in his military thinking.
According to Financial Times columnist Jurek Martin, Reagan “did declare verbal war on ‘the evil empire’ that was the Soviet Union and embarked on the strategic defense initiative (Star Wars) at considerable cost. But he had this persistent dream of a nuclear-free world, witnessed by the abortive negotiations in 1982 in Vienna, known as ‘the walk in the woods,’ and at the Reykjavik summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.”
Today’s Republican loyalist would call the real Reagan a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and condemn him for his daily meetings with Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.
A little Reagan on both sides would be beneficial these days – especially when it comes to crucial public issues such as Social Security. The two sides have taken such polar opposite positions that there seems no chance of agreement, whereas in reality there is room for a logical and satisfying set of compromises.
Among other changes, Republicans want the age of full eligibility moved from 65 to 70, and reduction or elimination of Social Security benefits for wealthy individuals. Democrats will officially accept “no change” in any of Social Security’s benefits.
“Several Democratic senators are separating themselves from their leadership and encouraging President Obama to cut Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age in order to keep the entitlement solvent. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats, are all openly calling for reform, and making it plain that the party is disunited on the issue when a titanic debate over debt is gathering momentum. If the president called for raising the Social Security retirement age by a year or two, phased in slowly over several decades, these senators say they could support him.”
Meanwhile, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) suggests that Social Security is not in such dire straits, and that it could be resuscitated with some modifications to its funding rules. One of his suggestions is “removing the cap, currently $110,100, that unfairly protects the highest earning Americans from paying into Social Security like the majority of hardworking Americans.”
I’ve recently been asking friends from all along the political spectrum what they think of removing this cap on payroll deductions for Social Security. Most don’t even know such a cap exists, and view it not only as surprising but also grossly unfair. Yet for Republicans who have signed the Grover Norquist “no new taxes” pledge, this logical compromise to ensure the viability of Social Security is a non-starter.
In other words, there’s room for agreement, but only if the parties can see fit to get off their high horses and do some genuine horse trading on the issues. Unfortunately, polarization and party loyalty are the rules of the day, hence rendering compromise unlikely. The need exists for more independent thinking – either by party members, or by independent candidates who wrest seats from the two-party system. Clearly, the time for change is now.