By Martin Dyckman
If there’s one rule that really matters in politics, it’s this: Don’t let best be the enemy of good.
Otherwise, both are likely to lose.
For people who favor universal health insurance — as I do — Obamacare was a hard swallow. It falls far short of covering everybody. It’s too complex, guaranteeing that there would be snafus for opponents to exploit.
But it was the best that could be had at the time, given the strong resistance to any reform and the necessity to convert the insurance industry from opposition to alliance.
Someday, there will be a universal system, like Medicare, for everyone. The more the Republicans hammer at Obamacare, the sooner that day will come.
In the meantime, however, millions more people now have health insurance, and other provisions in the law are beginning to restrain inflation and improve patient care for everyone. Would anyone other than the Koch Brothers call that a bad outcome?
It was a righteous compromise, even if the compromising was entirely among Democrats themselves.
Another compromise that’s possibly in the works is causing angst in both parties.
The status quo is unacceptable.
Some 11 million people aren’t going to “self-deport” themselves, as a certain candidate put it.
There is no stomach in the government for creating the sort of police state it would take to expel them all.
They are willing workers, hard workers, without whom a number of industries — notably agriculture — would collapse.
But their lack of status makes them easy prey for unscrupulous employers, landlords, merchants and lenders, who exploit their fear of going to the police or the courts.
One such immigrant whom I know went to court against a man he accused of theft. The wrong man left in handcuffs, and was deported.
Many immigrant children, brought here in their innocence, have excelled at our schools and colleges. But their future here depends on the grace of a second-term president.
It’s in the national interest, not just the human interest, to normalize the status of these 11 million people. That has been a goal for Republicans as well as Democrats. John McCain’s attempts and Jeb Bush’s advice come to mind.
Among the Republicans, however, there is a bitter, vindictive, and — in many cases — racist opposition to doing anything decent about immigration. That makes it difficult for responsible GOP leaders to countenance any comprehensive legislation that would include a path to citizenship.
There are Democrats who won’t hear of anything less.
Last week, however, there were faint but unmistakable hints of compromise.
House Speaker John Boehner suggested that Republicans might agree to a path to citizenship for the children. The adults would be allowed to remain, living and working openly and legally, but with no promise of citizenship now or later.
President Obama indicated that he might accept it, so long as it left the citizenship issue open to future legislation.
This would be a tough choice for many. But I suspect most immigrant parents would recognize it as a better situation than they have now.
In any case, no law is final. One that falls short today — like healthcare — can always be improved tomorrow.
The immediate urgency is to let those 11 million people come out of the shadows.
Many unsettled details and obstacles could foil this. One example: the spite that Majority Leader Eric Cantor expressed in saying he wouldn’t trust Obama to enforce the stronger border controls, which Republicans demand.
If the Republicans were thinking only of the general election, compromise would come easily. They need Hispanic votes. But their primaries have been poisoned by the Kochs and the Tea Party.
Among the Democrats, it wouldn’t be surprising to find some whose insistence on full citizenship and opposition to any stronger border enforcement is based less on principle than on the hope for yet another failure that could be blamed on the other side.
But as difficult it may seem, the leaders need to keep searching for that compromise.
They can take comfort in the fact that such difficulty, in our system, is nothing new.
In 1910, as he thought about trying to re-enter politics and regain the White House, former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his eldest son something that both Obama and Boehner could say today:
“The wild-eyed radicals do not support us because they think we have not gone far enough.”
TR had done pretty well despite them. Now it’s Obama’s turn. And Boehner’s.
Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times, now The Tampa Bay Times.