America hates Congress. A 2013 poll by Public Policy Polling revealed that Congress is less popular than cockroaches, used car salesmen, root canals, colonoscopies and worst of all, Nickelback. It’s easy to see why. The 113th Congress was one of the least productive on record. Every week, yet another story about Congressional ineptitude seems to pop up like clockwork.
This view of politics is as myopic as it is naïve. We shouldn’t always respect every viewpoint. Sometimes, there is a right answer: Some opinions are just stupid, and compromise can often be more dangerous than doing nothing at all.
If I were to walk up to you and suggest that murder is permissible, you’d consider me insane; if I were to say that the elderly should be denied medical care because they’re going to die anyway, I’d certainly lose friends. These ideas are patently absurd.
However, the idea that our children shouldn’t be vaccinated is considered perfectly reasonable by a chunk of the population despite a clear consensus to the contrary in the scientific community. It’s considered rational not to believe in climate change even when more than 90 percent of climate researchers tell us otherwise. We entertain such ludicrous notions because of an allegiance to seeing both sides of these “debates,” even when there aren’t two sides to be found. Sure, a tiny, tiny, tiny number of researchers disagree, but to call these “debates” is like calling stepping on a single ant the extermination of a species.
Many believe that it is our right to hold these beliefs — a right so fundamental that we’ve fought to the death to protect it. I don’t disagree. But that doesn’t mean we should respect such beliefs. We certainly shouldn’t enact laws that recognize them — yet 20 states allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children due to “conflicting philosophies.” When an issue has been clearly and definitively decided by science, “debating” about it is a waste of time.
But what of partisanship in general? Surely not every issue is quite so cut and dry. Shouldn’t we strive for compromise in Congress when the answer isn’t clear?
Remember that there’s a difference between considering other viewpoints and compromising. The former is an intellectual exercise; the latter is capitulation — surrender for the sake of passing some form of a bill rather than nothing.
I challenge the notion that compromise is even desirable.
The biggest sign that we need more compromise, people suggest, is that we’re not passing enough bills. But should we really be evaluating our politicians based on the quantity, rather than quality, of laws passed?
Congress is, by design, a place where little changes at any given time. When we do pass laws — when we finally get one of the rare opportunities to change America — why pass half-baked solutions? When the answer to a problem is unclear, we should be implementing our best ideas as policy. Compromise makes us non-committal — dipping our toes in the water without actually trying any one method. There’s no need to slow down what is already a sluggish process.
Besides, a party in power has a mandate to push the country in a certain direction. Indeed, said party shouldn’t be compromising at all unless doing so is absolutely necessary to pass a plan — and even then, it ought to be a difficult decision. There’s a certain finality to passing a bill — especially a hotly contested one. Americans don’t like to revisit issues that we think we’ve dealt with already; there’s a real chance that passing a major immigration bill with no teeth, for example, means the end of immigration discussions for years. If we’re going to try out a plan, we may as well do so properly.
Moreover, partisan politics provides a certain accountability to Washington: It’s harder for Republicans to blame the Democrats for a failed policy when the Dems didn’t help write any of it (and vice versa).
This empowers voters. If we don’t like what the current majority is doing, then we know exactly what we can expect from the other side. Elect a Democrat and expect more spending on social welfare programs; elect a Republican and expect the size of government to shrink. And with elections every two years, as many have pointed out, we have a chance to “throw the rascals out” pretty darn often.
We’ve been giving politicians an out — promising them forgiveness so long as they pass something regardless of its quality. If we want to improve this country, we’ll need to embrace partisanship, at least when there are actually two sides to an issue.
Shreyas Tirumala is a freshman in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at email@example.com.