Brent Batten: Oil and water don't mix in politics, either


A familiar plaint in and around the political arena is that politicians of opposing parties should work together to get things done.

It’s a perfectly reasonable sounding statement and there are polls that show most people agree.

President Barack Obama made mention of cooperation on multiple occasions Monday as he outlined his latest plan for economic growth and deficit reduction.

“Both parties are going to need to work together on a separate track to strengthen Social Security for our children and our grandchildren.”

“If we’re going to meet our responsibilities, we have to do it together.”

And “I am eager, to work with Democrats and Republicans to reform the tax code to make it simpler, make it fairer, and make America more competitive,” are three examples.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a week earlier, said much the same thing. ““It is my hope that we will be able to work together to put in place the best ideas of both parties and help put Americans back to work,” he said in a prepared statement on Sept. 12.

But on the big issues of the day, the parties tend not to work together very well, even though they talk about the need to do so.

That is neither surprising nor necessarily distressing.

Say there’s a fire. Person A is standing by with a bucket of water and Person B is standing by with a bucket of gasoline.

Ideally, the two would work together to put out the fire before it gets out of control. Person A’s strategy is to douse it with the bucket of water. Person B, not understanding the nature of combustion and the flammable properties of gasoline, believes the solution is to pour his bucket on the fire.

Can Person A be blamed for not working with Person B? Person A may even feel obligated to actively oppose Person B, to try to see to it that Person B fails. A compromise solution, throwing both buckets on the fire, is no solution at all.

To Republicans, President Obama’s plan outlined Monday is gasoline on a fire. It takes money taken from the private sector economy and places it in the hands of government via tax increases on individuals making more than $200,000 a year. Just two years ago, the president said, “The last thing you want to do is raise taxes in the middle of a recession.”

It calls for more government spending of the sort that failed to lower the unemployment rate when tried in the stimulus package of 2009.

Democrats are equally certain Republicans are standing there with a bucket of gasoline. Their staunch refusal to raise taxes on high-end wage earners and emphasis on cutting government spending amounts to balancing the nation’s problems on the backs of the poor and the middle class, Democrats believe.

When politicians say they want the two parties to work together, what they are really saying is they want the other party to accept their ideas and work with them to accomplish their goals.

There may be a squishy middle where some voters really believe mixing parts of one ideology with parts of another will lead to an effective compromise, but voters who hold opinions to the right or left of center want one thing _ a government that skews in their direction.

The solution to many of our most stubborn problems is not to get the person with water to work with the person with gasoline. It is to elect so many people with water in their buckets that they push aside those carrying gasoline.

Connect with Brent Batten at

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