- - Sunday, October 13, 2013


Usually when two sides cannot come to an agreement, they can let an arbiter weigh their arguments and settle the dispute. Some arbiters try to find the optimum compromise, while others simply rule in favor of one side over the other.

Unfortunately for America, we have no arbitrator. Instead, we have two groups of buffoons flinging muck at each other. On one side, we have a group of Republicans in the House refusing to do anything unless Obamacare’s individual mandate is delayed or, better yet, defunded. On the other side, you have a Democratic Senate refusing to vote on any bills.

Traditionally, the president tries to act as the arbiter in such disputes, but President Obama refuses to entertain negotiations. He insists that House Republicans drop all their demands and give him free rein.

Does either side understand what a compromise is? In a negotiation, unless you are dealing with a fool, you never get everything you want. You must make concessions in order to move forward.

I am a businessman and can tell you that time and again, I have had to compromise to make a deal. By finding areas of agreement, negotiators can iron out contentious issues and find some kind of middle ground. I may not get everything I want, but I get enough to make the deal worthwhile for my associates and me.

The biggest difference between my business deals and the current shutdown squabble is that I can walk away if I think the deal is too skewed against me. By contrast, Mr. Obama, House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cannot walk away.

The Republicans’ idea of a compromise is to offer a delay rather than a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. This notion was the strategy behind passing both bills and sending them to the Senate, figuring the Senate obviously would reject defunding and negotiate on the delay.

But the Republican leadership is stupid. They could not foresee that Mr. Reid would bundle the bills and force up-or-down votes. They thought the looming deadline over raising the federal debt ceiling was leverage when, in actuality, their approach led to a corner into which they are blindly running.

They were also dumb enough to think they could beat the president and Democrats in a public relations war over the shutdown. In Washington and the media, political compromise means Republicans should capitulate to Democrats. Democrats standing on principle are “courageous,” while Republicans doing the same are “jihadists, arsonists and terrorists.” It has been this way for at least 30 years. To expect anything different is insanity.

In the Senate, Mr. Reid’s idea of a compromise is to demand that House Republicans pass a “clean” government funding bill that keeps everything exactly as it is. He knew perfectly well that stonewalling the House would lead to a government shutdown and was (rightly) confident that Democrats could win the media battle.

In the White House, Mr. Obama sat back and proceeded to act like an adolescent. He refused for a long time even to meet with Republican leaders to hammer out a compromise. He sends marching orders to the 83 percent of the government not closed to make the shutdown as obvious and painful as possible, just as he did earlier this year for the sequester cuts, but this time even more outrageously.

Never before in any of the previous 17 shutdowns has the Mall been closed, or seniors expelled from their homes, or scenic overlooks barricaded. The president is a man who thinks keeping his wife’s nutrition-based website up and running is essential, but the Amber Alert system, used to track missing children, is not.

Mr. Obama had to make the cuts more pronounced because few Americans noticed the sequester cuts. If America can run with fewer federal dollars, then perhaps the Republicans are right about smaller government.

Regrettably, Mr. Obama can afford to act this way. The press will not call him on his behavior, and his supporters are too doe-eyed to acknowledge that he is managing to be more of a child in this than even Republicans (and that takes a titanic effort).

Mr. Boehner is an incompetent fool, Mr. Reid is a weasel, and the president of the United States is a reprobate. I am reminded of the old saying “We get the government we deserve.” I ask myself: What did we the people ever do to deserve this ride on the ship of fools?

Both sides are so convinced that they will “win” the political war that they have forgotten that to make this republic work takes making trade-offs. I honestly do not believe that either party knows how to win a war of ideas. They try to win battles, even accepting a Pyrrhic victory over losing a media cycle or an election. They stand for no real ideal and cannot plan beyond tomorrow.

Should we be surprised? Can we not see this same failure in how our government conducts all its affairs, including foreign policy and military operations? We have developed a culture of winning battles while losing wars. We change the definition of success or simply refuse to define what victory is. We throw money and lives at every perceived problem and count that as a triumph before the fighting finishes. Or we simply vacate the field and boast of victory to a tiny band of true believers.

I do not believe America is yet irredeemable, but it needs leaders who understand the importance of the long-term health of this country over shortsighted “wins.” It needs leaders willing to negotiate and compromise.

President Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” It is too bad we do not have a single political leader who believes in this maxim.

Armstrong Williams is the author of the book “Reawakening Virtues.” Join him from 4-5 a.m. and 6-7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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