Partisan credit

Applauding good ideas shouldn’t cost votes

On “Meet the Press” Sunday, Mitt Romney said that he would keep at least one aspect of Obamacare, the requirement that patients with pre-existing conditions be able to purchase insurance coverage.

What Romney actually would do is anyone’s guess. Both campaigns already have shown alarming propensity to shade the truth, almost to the point of saying nearly anything that might get their respective candidates elected. Romney has yet to reconcile his disdain for Obama’s health care reform package and the reforms that Romney instituted in Massachusetts. Nor has Obama been willing to give Romney credit for foresight on those reforms, except to call the former governor a flip-flopper for not supporting policies that Obama has modeled after them.

Romney was somewhat magnanimous on other topics as well, saying that the president’s national security policies have made the United States in some ways safer (a nod to the death of Osama and conceding that the sequestration agreement of prescribed spending cuts was an unwise move on the part of Republicans as well as Democrats.

Neither of those admissions take Romney very far out on a limb. After all, Obama’s tenure includes the death of Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks that made the nation feel so insecure. Giving the president credit for that didn’t cost Romney any credit he actually had. On foreign policy, he has very little.

If sequestration actually came to pass (which no one ever intended it to do), there would be plenty of blame, and plenty of pain, to go around — so much, in fact, that either man might wish the other were president.

So Romney’s conciliatory maneuvers are not especially valuable, but consider how elections might change if candidates could admit freely that their opponents had some good ideas.

Suppose candidates weren’t forced by donors and supporters and their own pride to argue with every single statement their opponents made.

Suppose campaign season actually was a time for voters to hear politicians working out the country’s salvation with less fear and trembling for their own political futures and more hope that valid solutions and permanent improvement might be possible, regardless of which candidate and which party triumphed.

In short, suppose that politicians’ and political parties’ primary goal was the good of the country. They could dispense with all their Chicken Little rhetoric and speak honestly.

Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Politics in this country has never been genteel, but in the past political discourse has been conducted in far more civil tones. After all, candidates for local office still manage to hold, and state, substantive differences of opinion without demonizing one another.

Expecting the best and strongest ideas to triumph in vigorous debate is different than refusing to support any good idea because it’s valued by one’s opponents. Challenging a proposal with the goal of refining it is not the same as simply hacking it to bits. The willingness to promote good ideas, regardless of where they originate — especially since many seem to migrate from one side of the aisle to the other, and most especially if they were once one’s own — should be viewed as a political strength. We cannot afford to waste them.

Imagine what this nation might be able to accomplish if mutually assured destruction weren’t the only way to win an election.