The Party of No Compromise

I SPENT MY first year after college doing voluntary service in Portland, Ore., serving as the hunger action coordinator for a small Catholic organization called the Oregon Center for Peace and Justice. That fall, I joined a group of church anti-hunger activists from around the state in a meeting with our Republican U.S. senator, Mark O. Hatfield. We asked him a number of questions, and urged his continuing support for food- and hunger-related legislation.

When it came my turn, I said, “Senator, how do you reconcile the compromises that you inevitably have to make as a politician with the ideals you hold as a Christian?” In his reply, Sen. Hatfield pointed to the difference between compromises of principle—which he said he would never make—and the tactical compromises necessary to make progress in a pluralistic society. Without the latter, the senator said, politics is nothing but an ideological shouting match.

These days, it’s clear that most far-right Republicans, including those in the party’s leadership, take a slightly different approach to inter-party cooperation than did the late Sen. Hatfield. They seem to see it less as building bridges for the sake of governing a varied society and more as sleeping with the enemy.

There’s probably no better recent example than the issue of health care. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is the law of the land—passed by Congress, signed by the president, and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. But none of those legal niceties seem to matter to the raw-meat GOP. Their attempts to circumvent or undercut the law range from the inane (such as 67 failed tries—count them: 67—to overturn the ACA by congressional vote) to downright bullying.

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