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C. Fraser Smith: Can we find common ground?

I struck a nerve the other day when I suggested the tea party had fomented a crisis around the debt ceiling.

There was this email:

“I find it amazing that you so quickly pointed to the TEA Party as causing the gridlock and sense of dysfunction in Congress.

“I guess perhaps you’re suffering from short-term memory loss? Was it not the Democratically-controlled Congress that failed to pass a budget?”

(Well, okay, but we’re talking degrees of mischief. The debt ceiling crisis threatened loss of the nation’s credit rating.) My correspondent went on:

“Was it not the current administration that caused our debt to balloon past the 14 trillion dollar mark earlier this year?”

(Well, no. Not at all. The previous administration and many previous to that were to blame.)

“… I’m not a member of the TEA Party, but I can understand why they called for a balanced budget amendment and reforms to the entitlement programs as part of any discussion over raising the debt ceiling. … The debt can was finally kicked down the road as far as it could have gone and it happened to land at the feet of the TEA Party. Thank goodness. …”

(Quite so, but dealing with it at the expense of the credit rating seemed to me counterproductive.)

The nuclear option

Then I wrote:

Surely, you don’t dispute the suggestion that tea party insistence led us to the brink of default? I thought that was their badge of honor.

I agree that something needs to be done about the debt. More revenue, for one thing. But we shouldn’t shred programs that work well. We needed a better strategy, a balanced one. I think the president offered one. But the tea party and the Republican Party have decided that compromise can no longer be part of the equation. It’s a big mistake. We need government.

It’s not a figment of the “liberal media’s imagination.” Of course we need reforms. We always will, but if one side is willing to threaten the nuclear option, we will have a difficult time in the future.

The current administration spent a lot to avoid a depression. Then it agreed to massive cuts in government spending. It wasn’t enough. The other side had to have everything it demanded — even as polling showed people were willing to have taxes increased. So who were these no-compromise representatives representing?”

Dysfunction or discourse?

Then he responded to my response.

“As is the case with most situations, there are two or more sides to any story and the truth usually lies somewhere between. It’s an over-simplification to blame fiscal conservatives for the dysfunction currently being exhibited inside the D.C. beltway. We are on an unsustainable path to financial ruin. You only need to look at Europe to see where we are headed. And, please don’t use the term “more revenue” when what you really mean is “more taxes.”

“The media’s attempt to sugar-coat the pillaging of the American taxpayer with a politically-correct term only adds insult to injury. EVERYONE should pay their fair share of taxes. Our tax system is the very first thing that needs overhaul. How many years have politicians been kicking that can down the road?

“ … The only polls I’m aware of where people were willing to have taxes increased were in relation to those taking the poll agreeing that OTHER PEOPLE’S TAXES should be increased … namely, the uber-rich. It’s so easy to solve problems with OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, isn’t it?

“You and I are like oil and water, I can see. We can banter back and forth until we’re blue (or red) in the face, but the fact remains that we’ll always separate again once the agitation stops. And if we have this sort of discontent between just the two of us, I can understand why we’re so dysfunctional in the kiddie sandbox we call Washington.”

Wrong again, I said: We are not oil and water. Not exactly. We agree on several things. We are not (for the most part) descending into name calling. What we are doing is disagreeing. Maybe we’re even seeing something from another legitimate point of view. It’s called civility and problem-solving.

If we don’t demand agreement or capitulation on every point, we have honest discourse, mutual respect and maybe even compromise.

We might discover we have the same objective.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is