Nitsuh Abebe, in a major essay in the June 25th issue of The New York Times Magazine, explores the current absence in our political life of the concept of win-win, a solution to a problem in which all parties benefit. Surely, if any issue deserved that approach, it would be health care. If both sides could have come together in a win-win situation to make the easy adjustments that would have improved the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), it would have been the rational and the humane thing to do.
Instead, our politics has sunk to the crass level of "pure winning," and Republicans had to have their "win." After trying, and failing, dozens of times to repeal Obamacare while Obama still held the veto pen, now was their chance, with control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
As Abebe writes, we have a climate now where "all promises of balance and mutual gain are actually humiliating traps, set by exploitative people still snickering in secret over how easily you fell for the last one. And so we have barreled instead into the realm of pure 'winning,' where there is no such harmony of interest. Either exert your power or slink home ashamed."
Remember when Mitch McConnell declared, on day one of the Obama administration, that their first agenda item would be to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. And his passage of the Affordable Care Act without a single Republican vote must have felt like a humiliation -- one that McConnell and his other Republican leaders have been determined to avenge ever since.
But, even controlling the White House and Congress, they can't do it. Here's where Abebe's article is especially relevant. He writes that winning is "often used in contexts that are not competitions." Stop and think about that. Why should providing health care for our people be a competition between representatives of the people themselves? Do we send our representatives to Washington to fight?
It's long bothered me how often the word "fight" comes up in political rhetoric, in both parties, used by both men and women. "If you vote for me, I will fight for you every day." The word rings in my ears as much in the voices of Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton as it does in the voices of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Why?
Abebe writes: "One obvious drawback of this [scoring points] mind-set -- a gut-level inclination toward the hyperbolic exercise of power -- is that it makes winning purely about imposing your will on reality, rather than, say, reaching an outcome that's actually desirable or defensible. . . ."
Obama knew this. He preferred to get solutions with broad support. That's how we got the Iran nuclear agreement. Compare that to Donald Trump's rhetoric about "winning." "We don't win anymore. But we're going to start winning. We going to win so much you'll get tired of winning." Any purpose is secondary -- just winning for the sake of being a winner.
And he scorned and demeaned Obama as "weak" because he was not basically a fighter. Trump thinks of himself as a "deal maker," meaning imposing his power or his tricksterism on the other to win, win, win. Right now, he's edging us dangerously toward a ground war in Syria. And he seems itching for a fight with Iran.
Winning should be a measure of accomplishing something for the good of the people, not scoring points. At least we have a short breathing spell, now that McConnell doesn't have enough votes to pass the senate health bill. He announced late Tuesday that he will delay the vote on the Senate bill until after the July 4th recess. He hopes to be able to twists arms, "bribe" senators with money from his $2 billion slush fund for pet projects the hold-out senators favor. It also gives more time for people to actually learn what this terrible piece of legislation would actually do -- starting with reducing the number covered by it by 22 million people by 2026.
Can you imagine the fantasy that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump would come to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and say: "Look folks, we can't do this the way we wanted to. So let's work together. Let's see how we can improve the Affordable Care Act so that it works better for the American people.
Now what would be so hard about that?