Saturday, February 6, 2010

Digging out, . . .'s first definition of compromise is:
1) a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.
Thursday, I had lunch with my good friend Judy, and we talked, as we often do, about how gratuitously argumentative our elected officials are. Most of today's politicians, Judy pointed out, seem completely uninterested in compromise. Which, said we two pizza-fueled women, is pointless, because our system of government only gets things done when there's political compromise. And, boy howdy, do we need to get things done!

So much for Thursday. Friday the Blizzard of 2010 began. Charlie and I settled in. We'd already stocked up on food at the grocery store and on books and videos at the library. Yesterday, we ate, read, took naps. We watched the snow and talked about how beautiful it is where we live. During the evening we watched a BBC drama about Vichy France. It was a very contented, feel-good day.  We slept well.

It's now Saturday morning. We have to face up to reality: At some point the snow will stop falling. It's time to think about digging out, which will entail a lot of hard work. Charlie stood out on the front porch and photographed our challenge:

If that's not graphic enough, here's the car I need to drive to work day-after-tomorrow.

As I'm a political animal, I naturally found a political metaphor in the Blizzard of 2010.

As long as the now falls, it's like an election.  It's okay to just cut loose and feel during an election. The whole process is fueled by rhetoric and emotion. Compared to the work of governing, elections are right much fun. We don't have to find a way to effectively get things done.  We know there is hard work ahead, but it's work we can't even get started on until  the votes are counted.

Whenever the snow stops it will be like actual governance. It will be the time hard work actually begins. Blizzard-wise, Charlie and I have already set a goal--we want to dig out enough by Monday morning so that I can go to work. Or at least get out of our driveway. Before we can accomplish that we know we will both be cold, wet, tired, and hungry, but that's okay because we're determined to accomplish that goal. If we just stay warm, dry, rested, and well-fed inside, any goal-setting we do becomes empty rhetoric.

Steven Pearlstein had a very interesting column in yesterday's Washington Post. Its title, "The myth of Washington bipartisanship and the art of true compromise." About half-way through the column is this paragraph:
The only way a democratic system like ours can work is if the majority party acknowledges that winning an election means winning the right to set the agenda and put the first proposal on the table, though not the right to get everything it wants. By the same logic, if members of the minority party want to influence that policy, they have to understand that it will require them to accept some things they don't like to get some things they do.
Compromise is not very glamorous or feel-good, but it is what fuels the real work of governance. And I would suggest that it's fondness for (addiction to?) empty, inflammatory rhetoric that largely fuels Washington's failures in the compromise department. Isn't uninformed, argumentative, political nonsense what we respond to? Aren't we loathe to trade the emotional buzz we get from political anger, for the quiet accomplishments of compromise?

It does seem to me today, as I think about shoveling vast amounts of this beautiful snow, that governance really  is somewhat like a blizzard. Both are amusingly dramatic, but  both bring with them a lot of hard work that we avoid at our own peril.


  1. Love the metaphor! Governance as blizzard.

    And there's also the blizzard of life that poses the question of what kind of government we want:

    Some people get right onto the business of shoveling (they make lots of money); others procrastinate a little but get out there in time (they get by); still others procrastinate to the point of needing to be bailed out (they're on welfare); others cannot shovel (they pay for help or they get help free or they don't get help at all).

    The government does the roads, but how involved should it be in driveways?

    Some people think not at all -- let charity take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. And for those who neglect to take care of themselves, well, they deserve to be snowed in. It's not the government's job to bail them out with other peoples' hard earned money.

    Others think the baseline should be that everyone has access to a snowblower, and it's the government's job to ensure that. Under this scenario, we'd have far less people snowed in, a much more able and ready workforce, and a happier, more productive society.

    On Dogwood, there's a lot of helping and sharing going on. My husband borrowed an elderly neighbor's snowblower and has done our driveway and the neighbor's. A lot of people are out shoveling alone or as couples. Some homes are apparently closed up and barely visible behind the drifts.

    The situation does make me think of all our bottom lines. I realize how dependent I am on other peoples' help and cooperation.

  2. Actually, mine is kind of a silly analogy because there will never be a question of whether the government does driveways. Only whether it should do roads.