No Principles? No Credibility

I’m sick to death of all this talk about “both sides” in the federal budget debate needing to “come together.”

We should get something straight. In every issue, there is a right side and a wrong side. (That is, assuming there’s any real difference between the two sides.) The right side has nothing to gain by “coming together” with the wrong side.

Take a simple example. If you’re about to cross a street and you don’t see an oncoming car about to hit you, there’s only one right solution:

For me to shout, “Stop!” There’s no compromise here. In principle, it’s no different with any situation that’s less obvious.

The reason so many people claim that Democrats and Republicans must “come together” is either (1) they don’t know the right answer, so they hope this process of compromise will magically result in the correct conclusion; or (2) they’re on the wrong side, they know it and they realize the wrong side has more to gain by compromise than the right side.

The wrong side always has more to gain from the right side than the other way around. In fact, if you’re right about something, you have nothing whatsoever to gain by paying any attention to those who are wrong. You know that one plus one equals two. You know that the sun will rise tomorrow, no matter what. There’s no point listening to anyone who claims otherwise. There’s nothing to gain, and in fact a lot to lose, by “working” or “negotiating” with those who claim that the sun is not rising tomorrow, or that one plus one has really been equal to five all along. Once again, the principle is the same, even when the context is less obvious.

Psychologically speaking, too many people fear uncertainty and fear admitting it even more. Instead of saying, “I don’t know the solution to the problem in Washington. I don’t know which side is right,” they arbitrarily and emotionally choose sides, almost like picking a football team to cheer or oppose. That’s why you see these nonsensical arguments on cable news and the like, or at family or other social functions. Instead of searching for the truth, too many people are more interested in defending their arbitrarily chosen side. There’s nothing wrong with defending your side, so long as you know WHY you have chosen the side you have, and why you consider that side right and the other side wrong. Otherwise there’s nothing to argue.

The debate underlying all of our current political disputes does not involve numbers or budgets. The debate is really philosophical. One side of the debate says that government should be at least as involved as it currently is in people’s lives, including in the economy. That, of course, costs money — more and more money, all the time. The opposite side of the debate is that government should be way, way less involved in people’s lives; that it should be cut not just to save money, but also because it’s morally right to leave people alone. One side says your life belongs to the state, and the more you produce — the more you belong. The other side says your life belongs to yourself, not to the state or anyone else.

If you believe government should stay as big as it is, and get even stronger all the time, then you have everything to gain by a compromise from the other side. Let’s say your plans to expand government will cost another $1 trillion. Let’s say the other side claims, “No way! We should be cutting back, not expanding.” If they compromise, you might end up with half of that $1 trillion — easy enough to do with all the numbers games played in political Washington.

Let’s say the other side refused to compromise. Imagine they said, “No way. Not one penny more. And you have to cut back on the existing size and expense of government. We’ll negotiate with you on that, but that’s all.” This is what the right side of an issue has to do. Don’t compromise on principle. If your principle is that government is too big, then you should never cave an inch when it’s demanded that you expand the government; you should only be willing to cut government — to actually cut government, not play numbers games on paper that make it look like you’re doing so when you’re actually doing no such thing.

As you watch the Republicans flounder against their opponents in D.C., keep all of this in mind. In the end, they’ll be told that they should have been more “moderate,” reasonable and compromising. In fact, this is what they did: Compromise, that is. If they hadn’t compromised away their principles, they wouldn’t be left with nothing. If they held firm to principle from the beginning, they might not (in a very divided government) got a whole lot done — but they’d at least be left with something very important: Their credibility.

Once credibility is lost, you lose your friends and your enemies will devour you. Just ask Republicans once this budget process is over.