Cliff notes: The ugly but necessary path to governing

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: The “deal” to avert the so-called fiscal cliff is an embarrassingly bad piece of legislation. Historically awful, really. Just horrendous.

But I would have voted for it.

Governing is not about voting only for things you support and voting against things you don’t. We might wish it were, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

If governing were about nothing more than principled stands on ideologically polarizing issues, the entire government would be in paralysis in perpetuity.

Getting anything accomplished in a pluralistic Democracy requires that you grow up a little and do some things you don’t want to do in order to get as much of your agenda implemented as possible.

When you have nothing even resembling leverage, you have two options. You can either decide to pick a hill to die on out of principle, so your record can be clear of any ideological apostasy, or you can swallow the bitter medicine and compromise for the betterment of not only your country, but your agenda as well.

The left understands this. For 80 years now, the reason the state has continued to grow exponentially is because they claim victories inch by inch, year by year. Little wins pile up, and over the course of decades they become big wins.

No, Democrats don’t like it when their leaders compromise with Republicans, but they don’t eat their own over it either.

Case and point: The Republicans used the debt ceiling for leverage against President Barack Obama and forced him into extending the Bush tax cuts two years ago. Nobody believed that Obama was suddenly a proponent of “tax cuts for the wealthy” simply because he compromised.

The left viewed Obama for what he was, namely a leader who staged a tactical retreat by compromising on an issue that he would have preferred to have not compromised on — but not an ideological traitor.

Now look where they are. Fresh off a convincing re-election win, Obama and the Democrats have just forced through a tax hike on the wealthy with virtually no spending cuts. Should the left care about his previous compromise or the inch-by-inch results he is getting for their agenda?

The Democrats are simply better than the Republicans at this. They hold a different view of governing, concerned with big, long-term goals that they incrementally creep toward every day. Compromise is a tool to get what they want, it is not — as it is to the average Republican — surrender.

Governing is an ugly, impure business, and there is no changing that simply because we wish it weren’t so. The right’s obsession with believing otherwise is handing the Democrats more of their agenda, at less of a cost.

Those on the right so loathe participating in that which they despise and “corrupting themselves” that they have a habit of taking their ball and going home rather than getting dirty, giving their opponents on the left even more leverage in the process.

That, not compromise, is tantamount to surrender.

Republicans were irate last year that House Speaker John Boehner was talking to the president about a “grand bargain” because it accepted some tax hikes, so we killed any chance to cut a deal accordingly.

But I wonder, how does that deal — $4 in cuts for every $1 of tax hikes — sound compared to the deal — $10 in take hikes for every $1 of cuts — that just passed?

The Republicans should have forged a grand bargain last year heading into the election to cut the best deal they could because they had all of the bargaining chips at the time.

If Romney won, they could have fixed the bad parts of the deal after the election. If he lost — which he did — we wouldn’t be sitting here having to choose between voting for this steaming pile of manure or drastically harming the country by letting us go over the fiscal cliff.

I, for one, am tired of fighting policy battles blindfolded and with one hand tied behind my back because my party has chosen intransigence over tactical compromise.

If you want to govern this country, you have to understand that your agenda is a decades-long fight, and you are going to have to fight for the best you can get at any time.

That isn’t surrender, it isn’t selling out. It is governing. No one ever said it was pretty.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political operative. He serves as the Director of Digital Strategy for the Republican Governors Association, and has previously worked for Senator Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.