A reader writes in to Talking Points Memo with this observation:
Why do you think Congressional Democrats have had such a hard time dealing with Republican obstructionism? It's been apparent for months that Republicans are unwilling to compromise on legislative initiatives, unless by compromise you mean that they will allow Democrats to agree with their proposals. In such an environment, it is pointless for Democratic lawmakers to ask themselves whether there is a way they can craft legislation so that some Republicans will be willing to vote for their proposal - there is simply no provision that Democrats can add or remove from a bill that will make Republicans want to vote for a Democratic proposal. And yet we keep seeing efforts - like the Baucus jobs bill - in which leading Democrats tinker with or even gut their own proposals in a fruitless effort to get Republicans to sign on to the legislation.
Steve Benen wrote a thoughtful piece this morning on the same theme, saying that it's unprecedented for any party to behave this way in the wake of such a decisive election. And it is. But it's not unprecedented for a political faction to behave this way.
I've posted this many times, but it's more relevant than ever. Here's Lincoln speaking about the South at the Cooper Union in 1860:
It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.
Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.
The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.
These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them.
The civil war didn't really resolve the underlying problem, which wasn't only slavery, but also the inconvenient fact that the country is really two different political cultures, one of which has always believed that the other looks down on them and in return loathes them for it. It's that same stubborn ressentiment which animates the rump Republican party today. They have a chip on their shoulders the size of Mt Rushmore. And they will not be appeased even by capitulation. They demand conversion. At a time when the country is as politically polarized and economically stressed as it is today, this faction becomes very powerful, even if it doesn't represent a majority.
There is not likely to be another bloody civil war, but we are in a cold civil war and have been for quite some time. In fact, except for respites for foreign wars and assorted other catastrophes and recoveries, we always have been. Whatever consensus we achieved was always papering over the differences, not transcending them. And at times like this, when the country desperately needs to solve some problems, the Democrats, representing the rest of the people, need to work past this faction and get the job done. Empowering them in these circumstances is a very bad idea.