Monday, June 27, 2016

Rainbow Flag and the Color of Compromise

Seeing the rainbow colors of the LBGT movement everywhere has gotten me to thinking.

Not about hate crimes or gun violence or terrorists.

It’s gotten me to thinking about colors and how they combine to form new colors.

You could call it a miracle except that it’s not. It’s simple physics.

Just the mention of physics drives a lot of people away. I suppose the mention of miracles does the same thing. It would be nice if there was a term somewhere between miracle and physics to describe the process of red and yellow coming together to form an exciting new color—orange.

For lack of a better word, let’s call it a compromise.

Red and yellow bring something to the table and a new color walks away from the table.

There is still plenty of red to go around and all the yellow we will ever need, but now there is also a new color in town, orange.

Of course, red and yellow don’t actually make a compromise. Neither do they bring attitude or biases to the process. Neither is afraid or suspicious of the other. They don’t question the need for a new color. That is why combining red and yellow to form orange is no big deal.

As you might expect, this essay isn’t about colors so much as it is about compromise, but the science of mixing colors can offer some insight into the difficulty of finding compromise—specifically compromise in Congress.

Red and blue combining to create purple is a relatively easy task. So is bringing blue and yellow together to produce green. Creating maroon or fuchsia or crimson or any of the thousands of other possible potential colors is a little harder to accomplish—but not impossible.

Physics tell us so. Creating new colors is no different than sending a man to the moon. You simply set goals, start at the beginning, build on what you have and keep moving forward. You can’t tackle the big problems until you tackle the little ones.   

 Reaching compromise in Congress relies on the same principles. It has nothing to do with physics but when it happens, it is often referred to as a miracle. It’s really no more than common sense.  

We’ve seen how the Congress can work together—Democrats and Republicans, working together to name a new post office, or something else of little significance. But the hard decisions, the truly important decisions, seem impossible. It wasn’t always this way.

In 1964, liberals from the liberal Republican Party, whose presidential candidate was right-wing conservative Barry Goldwater, joined forces with liberals from a predominantly conservative Democratic Party, led by Lyndon Johnson, a FDR New Deal liberal president to pass the Civil Rights Act. This monumental piece of legislation was enacted in spite of and because of split votes within the parties.

The key was having liberal and conservative wings within each party to essentially break down barriers at a level where they could be broken down. As barriers fell, areas of agreement arose. By the time the Civil Rights bill reached the halls of Congress, the heavy lifting had been done. To be sure, not everyone was happy. They never are. But something did get done.

It took about two months for this legislation to pass. Today’s Congress has passed little significant legislation in the past eight years. It cannot even initiate hearing to confirm a Supreme Court judge.

The fifties and sixties was a time of great advancements made possible by common sense compromise. The interstate highway system, landing a man on the moon, moving from a prewar depression and a wartime military buildup to a consumer based economy were all accomplished by two political parties working together. Whatever divisions that existed, existed in both parties and it was within those parties that the initial work was done.

The problem today is that there is a huge split between the parties and almost no split within the parties. The result is that compromise winds up be sought at the highest levels of government where failure is almost certainly guaranteed.

Anticipating compromise on the floor of Congress today is like bringing red and blue together and expecting to get fuchsia out of the deal. It’s simply too big a project hindered by too little ground work within the parties. There has to be room within the Democratic Party for conservatives and within the Republican Party for liberals—not to mention a few other voices. Then there has to be debate within those parties. It also wouldn’t hurt if liberal and conservative weren’t seen as derogatory terms and compromise seen as surrender.

Maybe our leaders should lay aside the Constitution—for just a moment—and brush up on their physics.