WASHINGTON — Here’s where we have arrived as a country: We are so polarized that even compromise has become a partisan issue.
As the 2012 campaign closes, bipartisanship and “working together” are more in vogue than ever because the few voters still up for grabs tend to be more moderate, less partisan and less ideological.
But beneath the last-minute embrace of comity lurks a central fact about American politics now: Democrats, a more moderate and diverse party, believe in compromise far more than Republicans do. While polls find that 6 in 10 Democrats regard themselves as moderate or conservative, nearly three-quarters of Republicans say they are conservative. And Tea Party Republicans, who loom so large in primaries, are especially averse to giving any ground.
Moreover, Democrats still have a positive view of government and regard tradeoffs between taxes and spending as a normal part of governing. Republicans care most about reducing government’s size and in cutting taxes. They’re prepared to accept standoffs and crises to reach those goals.
No Republican better summarized this sentiment than Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who defeated moderately conservative Sen. Richard Lugar in a Republican primary and is now best known for his comments on God’s will and rape.
“What I’ve said about compromise and bipartisanship,” Mourdock said on CNN last May, is that “I hope to build a conservative majority in the United States Senate so bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government, reduce the bureaucracy, lower taxes and get America moving again.” When it was noted that this didn’t sound like compromise, Mourdock replied: “Well, it is the definition of political effectiveness.”
The split on compromise itself is visible in many other contests this fall, and none more than in the Virginia Senate battle between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen. Kaine has made working across party lines a central theme of his campaign. Allen has put a lot of energy into linking Kaine to Obama. He has also criticized Kaine for endorsing the compromise that helped avoid a crisis during last year’s debt-ceiling battle because of the defense cuts it contained. These would take effect only if Congress fails to reach — well, a compromise after the election.
Kaine argues that avoiding default was essential, and that voters seem to agree with him. The latest Washington Post poll found Kaine leading Allen by 7 points while Obama leads in Virginia by 4.