Rise Of The ‘Cave’ Men: How The Media Is Turning ‘Compromise’ Into A Dirty Word

Political negotiation in the year 2013

Political negotiation in the year 2013

You’ve seen them; we’ve all seen them: the headlines found on the front pages every media source on the Internet, splashed across ink and paper newspapers; uttered from the mouths of pundits, the words of bloggers, even the commenters commenting on all the above: CAVED. Anybody who’s had anything to do with negotiating, debating, giving/taking, coming to necessary accommodations towards the goal of progress has…CAVED.

Surrendered. Yielded, collapsed, squandered, crumbled.

Question: when did the fine art of compromise, the reasoned maturity of coming to terms with opposing sides, suddenly devolve into the realm of the weak? When did we get so presumptuous, become so politically…pissy?

That happened when extremists on both sides of the aisle – the Tea Party/Hard Rightists on one side, the Rigidly Hard Core Leftists on the other – staked their claim as “the soul” of their respective parties, then made clear that their issues, their platforms, their agendas were the party’s essential priorities. The most important, foot-stomping, tantrum-demanding priorities. If those priorities could not be met, then it is better that nothing get done. Hence, the “do nothing Congress” that just retired; the one with some of the highest “unfavorable” poll numbers ever – or, as Ezra Klein of the Washington Post put it, Good Riddance to the Rottenest Congress In History.

Given the narcissism of modern politics, it has become de rigueur to denigrate any politician audacious enough to realize that compromise is essential, then attempt to act on that knowledge. In fact, instead of seeing such accommodation as Solomon wise and crucial to the smooth running of government, angry writers, pundits and analysts on both sides of the debate pound their fists and carry on as if mommy and daddy had not only disappointed them but broken their hearts.

For example, when the news broke that Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had come to a deal they felt could pass in the House, the front page of The Huffington Post looked like this:

The Huffington Post front page 12.31.12

The Huffington Post front page 12.31.12

Note the highlighted line: “White House Caves On Tax Rates.” There it is right there: “Caves.” Not “compromises”…”Caves.”

Instead of taking the high road and acknowledging that a compromise was reached after weeks of head-banging debate amidst the pressure and demand to come to a workable agreement before the fiscal cliff deadline, the editors went with “White House Caves…”

Instead of recognizing that in any conflict between two opposing parties the only option for mature resolution is each side being willing to give something up, the editors went for snark, either as a calculated reader-grab or because they truly felt it was a “cave.” Either way, it was serious, simplistic spin.

And it didn’t stop there. These are some of the other headlines since January 1st:

GOP caves on spending cuts demand as House passes bill to avert fiscal cliff @ The Raw Story

Obama caves because he is a corporatist, first & foremost. @ The Daily Kos

WTF? Why cave in now? from some commenter @ DemocraticUnderground.com

On places like Facebook, the far-leftist branch of the Liberal contingent were shaking their heads in disgust, quoting Paul Krugman, whose piece at Huff Po was dramatically titled: Obama Could ‘Go Down In History As The Wimp Who Threw It All Away.’ Meanwhile the “rightists” of the Right were carrying on about Boehner being a pussy while applauding Sean Hannity for opining that “Some Republicans don’t have the stomach for the fight.”

I don’t mean to be cruel…but, good God, get them all some Kleenex and put them to bed!

Personally, I liked Michael Tomasky’s take, over at The Daily Beast. In an article titled, Dear Liberals: Stop Complaining, he addresses the issue with sharp insight:

"Obama Caves..." at AOL

Here’s Obama “caving” at AOL…

Obama isn’t Captain Liberal. He’s the president. And liberal pundits who are up in arms about the fiscal-cliff deal seem not to recognize the difference. […]

I’ve been amazed to read, sometimes from people I’ve considered quite knowledgeable, that Obama held “all the cards” here. He didn’t, by a long shot. This was a negotiation. Negotiations are hard. The other side wants exactly what you don’t want. Like it or not, liberals, the other side legitimately represents 47 percent of the country, so they had every right to get something out of this. And as it happens the other side also had the ability to block anything from happening. And they would have, too, if Obama had given them half an excuse.

Hear, hear, Tomasky! I hope someone on the Right is making similar sense to their readers.

Government doesn’t run if NOBODY compromises. We’ve already had plenty of that (I refer you back to the “rottenest Congress in history”). Political intransigence – however bold and principled it may appear to party extremists – ultimately translates into inflexibility and paralysis, creating politicians who’d rather do nothing than be seen as “caving.”

My advice? Take the plunge…”cave.” If “caving” means having the wherewithal to see beyond one’s personal, political agenda to do what’s possible now, at this time, in this moment, with these players and in this climate, then do it: “cave.” Take a step forward, get closer to what’s needed, act for the greatest good for the greatest number to the greatest degree you can. If they say you caved, so what? It’s just a word. There are other words….words like “courage” and “compromise.” Try focusing on those.



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