One Nation, Under Compromise?

In my column this week for Hoover’s Defining Ideas, I argue that, in spite of the outcome of the election, our political and financial realities will force both Democrats and Republicans to work toward smaller government.

My last Defining Ideas column on the Libertarian’s Dilemma started with the simple but critical observation that voting for any candidate is like buying a bundle of goods. To get the goods (or policy issues) you want, you have to accept the goods you don’t. So, the winning candidate may receive at most minority support for many of the most controversial items in their bundle of policies. We know that Obama won the 2012 election because voters, by a margin of 81 to 18, think that he “cares for people like me.” But that warm and fuzzy feeling will soon give way to the issue-by-issue trench warfare on which the president is likely to prove far more vulnerable.

Consider health care. 

The president and his party run the risk of real blowback if they treat their slight electoral victory as a political mandate for the health care program. It is impossible to think that the president will just abandon the centerpiece of his first administration. But in politics, discretion is often the better part of valor, which makes it likely that the two sides will negotiate a truce that calls, at the very least, for delayed implementation of the law.

Another area of potential compromise is over the “fiscal cliff.” I elaborate on this and other issues in my full column.