My alma mater, Allegheny College (beatissima!), has just uncorked this poll about how Americans feel about civility in politics.
Guess what? They're for it:
A large majority -- 95 percent -- of Americans believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy
says the report, compiled by the school's Center for Political Participation. And also
Americans want compromise on a range of policy issues. For example, some two-thirds of Americans support a compromise on immigration reform.
Well, hell! Sounds like a new era of consensus-building is at hand, doesn't it? Let us beat our pollsters into plowshares, and await the arrival of a New Jerusalem.
Except for one thing:
An overwhelming number of conservatives who intend to vote in the 2010 primary elections expect their elected officials to stand firm, rather than compromise on tough policy questions.
There's even a handy graph, which looks like this:
As you can see, voters who identify themselves as "conservative" or "very conservative" value politicians who "stand firm" much more than politicians who are willing to compromise. No other group comes close to this preference for not giving an inch.
Now this is just one poll. But that result explains a lot, doesn't it?
What's interesting to me is that conservatives appear to be even less willing to compromise than those who describe themselves as "progressive" or "liberal."
I've always kind of thought that folks on the hard left and folks on the hard right had one thing in common: a willingness to march into oblivion in the service of their values. (I've seen 'em both do it more times than I can remember, after all.) But when it comes to pure mulishness, this poll suggests, even radical lefties don't match the hard-core believers on the right.
We saw this in the healthcare debate. The reform proposals with Barack Obama taking a single-payer option off the table, as the lefties grumbled. Then they grumbled some more as Democrats also gave up on the "public option," and ended up with a reform that borrowed wholesale from earlier Republican healthcare reform proposals.
None of this did anything to lure GOP support, of course. But that's hardly surprising, says the poll. As a rule, the right-wingers polled don't really believe in compromising their values. Left-wingers, meanwhile, are more likely to believe that compromise is a value.
You can see where they'd end up feeling some disappointment.
On a legislative basis, you'd have to say the Republicans "lost," because the bill passed despite their opposition. But emotionally speaking, liberal Democrats may be the real losers -- they got a bill they didn't live up to their values -- and what's more, GOP intransigence denied them the chance to fulfill the value of compromise.
You may recall that news reports of every vote in favor of the reform included a caveat: The bill passed "without any bipartisan support." Note that judging from the poll, this concern is water off a duck's back when a president is conservative. Conservatives don't give a shit whether their president has bipartisan support or not.
And of course, the irony is that they're the ones most likely to get bipartians support . Because their Democratic opponents believe in compromise.
And as we saw during the healthcare debate, liberal Dems may be the only people who can compromise with themselves ... and still come out on the losing end.
So if you've ever felt like there's some sort of asymetric warfare going on in politics ... if you've ever felt like Republicans don't play by the same set of rules, here's an answer for why that is so. Valuing "compromise," after all, means your happiness depends on what the other party does. And the problem here is the other party doesn't give a rats ass.
Of course, the parties do have some things in common. Democrats get lots of money from corporate contributors, just like Republicans do ... so naturally Democratic efforts at reform will always be more half-hearted than some lefties will want. In fact, sometimes touting the virtue of "compromise" is just a way to cover up for being chickenshit, for lacking the courage to take on a full-fledged reform.
But in any case, pursuing the goal of compromise -- for whatever reason -- doesn't really inspire the troops. Consider this graph
which dovetails with plenty of other data suggesting Republican voters are more energized than Democrats. "Compromising" sounds noble. But not only does it lack the visceral appeal of winning it all ... it also lacks the visceral appeal of sticking it to the other guy.
Which is maybe why Barack Obama is winning many of his battles ... but it feels like we're losing the war.