What is the purpose of government again? To provide the public with news and entertainment by way of dysfunction and unproductive bickering? Lately it’s like a bad sitcom about feuding in-laws—except this is real-life and the stakes are high. Government should be a means by which people come together to solve common problems and seek the common good. Now, that suggestion seems like a novel idea, but a quick read through a daily newspaper is enough to shatter one’s confidence in American politics. In a recent edition of Politico, two front page stories did just that. The first headline reads, “Tax Increases Divide House Democrats.” Initially hopeful, the article reports that some Democrats are now “open” to Republican demands that tax reform not include tax increases. Gasp—the possibility for compromise! But no: Later in the article, Rep. Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, is quoted as saying he doesn’t think “anybody is wavering.” Confirming that outlook, Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi says he doubts that any Democrats will step out of the party line. “I think they’re going to be put in a very tough position, ultimately, by their leader.” Once again, looks like dysfunction it will be. The other headline reads, “Lamar Alexander under fire on immigration.” The Tennessee Senator was one of 13 Republicans to vote for the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill last month. In return, he has been lambasted by the Tea Party and other conservatives as a “doublespeaking” liberal who must be replaced in the mid-term elections. At a recent fundraiser, Alexander was met by 300 protestors wearing T-shirts that read “Beat Lamar” and carrying signs that said “You betrayed us” and “No more RINOs [Republicans in Name Only]. Conservatives only.” Don’t get me wrong, people are welcome to hold staunch, hard-lined beliefs on both sides of the ideological spectrum. But when those who dare to seek compromise are fiercely criticized and disowned, it is a sign of a broken system. The immigration debate is a particularly prime example of this, because—at its core—everyone agrees that the system needs to be fixed, which means that we ought to be committed to actually fixing it. The biggest roadblock to immigration reform seems to be the question of what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America. In respect of both the rule of law and these people’s lives, inaction is not an option. Unless we are going to forcefully deport 11 million people from the country, some sort of path to citizenship is the only option. This is not liberal “doublespeak,” it is political reality. That path should seek to ensure that these people will be responsible and contributing citizens, but it must exist. And the legal immigration system must be fixed so that this problem never happens again. The Gang of Eight’s plan is not perfect, but at least it is an effort at a realistic solution. Compromise has become a dirty word for both sides in American politics. Yet, it is also the defining feature of our political system, and the only way that we can move forward. The ideological Puritanism that has taken over American politics is slowly turning our government into a joke. Instead, imagine if everyone involved sought to pragmatically craft policies that provide the best possible solutions for those affected. Maybe then, America would have a government that would serve the common good once more.
August 12, 2013