Would You Meet Your Killer Halfway?

"I'm trying to find common ground here!"

Obstructionist. Intransigent. Obstinate.

These words among others, used in reference to the Tea Party and fiscally conservative members of Congress, bark past teeth bared in animosity. Critics of the Tea Party lament its uncompromising stance against proposals like the recent fiscal cliff deal. Content to tolerate mere rhetoric, these critics draw the line at standing on principle when it actually counts. NPR’s Alan Greenblatt places the Tea Party at a crossroads:

In the coming year, the returning [Tea Party Republican] members [in Congress] will have to decide whether they want to continue practicing a politics of purity, advocating strong and unyielding positions, or accept that governance generally requires a good deal of compromise.

Compromise sounds reasonable on its face. Absent any context, the term invites a sense of begrudging contentment. Certainly, compromise permeates our everyday lives. Every relationship we engage in requires compromises subtle and plain. It remains true that gestures of goodwill go a long way toward fostering mutually beneficial arrangements. However, that assumes both parties act in good faith. It also assumes that a given compromise serves a profitable long-term goal.

Opponents of the Tea Party have no such qualifications in mind. They advocate compromise as an end in itself. The notion springs from a fundamental reverence in our culture for sacrifice. Misinterpretation and misapplication of Judeo-Christian tenets have fostered an irrational sense of nobility for giving up something of value in exchange for a lesser value or even nothing at all. Such counter-productive sacrifice is demanded from Tea Party-backed members of Congress by folks like International Business Times commentator Joseph Lazzaro. Contemplating the immediate economic repercussions of allowing the country to fall off the fiscal cliff, and writing before the deal’s passage in the House, he explains:

Now, the typical, moderate, independent American, assessing the damage that a long-term failure to reach a budget deal would cause, will no doubt reasonably argue that surely the Tea Party faction will compromise - for the good of the nation. I.E. that the Tea Party will approve the current tax/budget bill.

Unfortunately, however, if that independent American is thinking reasonably, i.e. views a compromise as a rational, prudent stance, he/she is not thinking like a Tea Party member of Congress. Pressured by their extremist supporters, Tea Party members of Congress have shown no inclination to compromise and agree to a fair deal, no matter how much damage that obstruction and intransigence causes to the credit markets and the U.S. and global economies. Obstruction, driven by an extremist conservative ideology – no matter how much financial and economic destruction it triggers – has been the Tea Party’s preferred strategy, if the alternative is a compromise that leads to increased income taxes and an agreement that includes support for the liberal social safety net.