The word “compromise” is in bad odor at the moment, and anybody who listens to talk radio or cable-news commentary of either the right-wing or left-wing variety knows that to say the word “bipartisanship” is tantamount to announcing one’s intention to become a eunuch — or, the times being as unserious and hypertensive as they are — to commit treason.
We were supposed to be practicing the “art of the deal.” We are instead scouring politicians’ yearbooks for discrediting photographs or cryptic messages suggestive of misconduct. Meanwhile . . . well, you know.
Is it possible to reform that which is in need of reform?
Consider the case of health care. For Republicans, 2009 was a tragedy founded on sins of omission. Barack Obama came triumphant into Washington followed by crowds of celebrities and admirers literally chanting his name as a hymn of praise, and his first order of business was doing something about health care — or, more specifically, about health insurance. Republicans responded with something less than splendiferous wit and intelligence: “We have the best health-care system in the world!” they insisted, over and over, dozens of them, often using precisely the same words. Somehow, a political strategy based on the notion that Americans like health-insurance companies proved ineffective — surprise.
The Democrats, for their part, couldn’t quite decide what they wanted. They talked about “Europe,” as though there were a single “European” model of health care. Some of them talked about the British and Canadian systems, rarely if ever giving serious consideration to the question of why so few of those admired European countries rely on such systems (Germany? No. Sweden? No? Switzerland? No!) or why these national monopolies produce so many complaints among citizenries that generally support them or so many documented failures when it comes to access and timely patient care. They thought they were being clever by taking as their starting point a model associated with Mitt Romney in Massachusetts — “Call us irresponsible radicals, will they? Well, this is a Republican plan! Take that!”