Friday, January 14, 2011

Conservatives favor less compromise

A recent Gallup poll (HT: Marginal Revolution) shows that the more conservative you are, the more likely you are to favor politicians sticking to their principles rather than compromising, even if it means nothing getting done.
The differences among partisan/ideological groups reflect similar patterns. Conservative Republicans are the most likely to say leaders should stick to their principles. Democrats in all ideological groups are more likely than conservative Republicans to lean toward the "more important to compromise" position. Liberal and moderate Democrats are the least likely to favor a "stick to principles" position, while liberal Democrats are slightly more likely to choose a mid-range position on the issue than are other Democrats.
These results could probably be used by either side to blast the other: the liberals can call conservatives closed-minded and stubborn enough to halt progress in favor of principles, while the conservatives can call liberals wishy-washy and unprincipled.

Yet one would think it rather odd if two ideological groups were really so imbalanced on this question. Why shouldn't both liberals and conservatives on the extreme ends of the spectrum be more interested in sticking to their principles than compromising their values? Shouldn't it merely be that the more moderate you are, the less averse you are to compromise? The data don't bear this out.

This points to the fundamental problem of American politics: the public has bought a picture of "progress" that has only one direction. As a consequence, you're either "progressive" (or "liberal," which is a complete distortion of that term) meaning in favor of this one and only mode of progress, or else you're "conservative," meaning resistant to it. That this form of "progress" can scarcely even be described precisely makes it all the more effective politically: convince enough people that there's only one direction forward, and you can do a lot of backward things in the name of "progress."

It is because conservatism is nothing more than an attempt to stall "progress" as long as possible that we see this imbalance on the issue of compromise. Progressives have no real ideological competitors. It makes sense that they would be willing to compromise, because if anything gets done at all, it probably favors their agenda. The difference, then, is merely between getting everything done that they please, and getting something done. Conservatives, on the other hand, have no real agenda other than trying to possibly undo what's been done. No wonder those who call themselves "very conservative" want politicians to stick to their principles and not compromise.

Case in point:
Shortly after taking over control of Congress last week, Republican leaders introduced a bill to repeal the entire healthcare reform act that President Obama signed into law last March. This repeal bill is viewed as having virtually no chance of passage by the Democratically controlled Senate or of overriding a presidential veto, making it a symbolic gesture seemingly aimed at a desire to showcase beliefs rather than a serious effort to pass legislation. These actions may find favor among very conservative Americans and among conservative Republicans, groups that disproportionately tend to believe that sticking to principles should trump a desire to reach compromise.
Of course the Republicans aren't going to be able to fix the health care bill. They were never smart enough to propose a bill of their own in the first place. "Sticking to principles" once again means just trying to undo what's been done, rather than trying to propose a positive agenda.

This is basically why I am not a conservative.

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