Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Tax Compromise? For Republicans it Adds Up to Zero
LaughingStockNation recently observed, with typical cynicism, that people admire political compromise because they believe naively that it's an automatic route to the truth (“A Political Dictionary of Slippery Words,” 11/24/11). Now the New York Times has published a letter to the editor (12/7/11, page A26) that makes much the same point with more eloquence and precision. The writer, Leonard S. Charlap of Princeton, N.J., rejects the notion that the two major political parties have equivalent records dealing with key issues like tax increases. The Democrats have repeatedly offered and accepted compromise. The Republicans, in the thrall of Grover Norquist and his infamous pledge, have been unyielding. Charlap, who identifies himself as a mathematician, offers an insightful illustration of why compromise in this case is practically impossible: “I will give an arithmetic analogy,” he writes. “Suppose you want to determine 2 + 3. The Democrats say it is 5 while the Republicans say it is 23. It does little good to compromise on 14, which is the average. Your bridges will still fall down.” His analogy, in addition to its relevance to current tax and budget issues, shows why contrasting political paradigms can’t simply be tinkered with to arrive at some magical “middle ground.” In this case, one paradigm is based on arithmetic reality, 2 + 3 = 5. The other views numbers merely as characters with no quantitative meaning: 2+3 is simply 2 followed by 3. Numbers like the ones favored by Republicans can be used to fool people or to browbeat an opponent. But they don't add up.