Opinion Republicans as ‘compassionate consensus builders’? Really?


HR King
May 29, 2001
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
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Protesters gather in front of the federal building in San Francisco on May 3. (Nick Otto/AFP/Getty Images)
It’s still early, but my nomination for the three most revealing words of the month are “compassionate consensus builder.”
That phrase comes from a memo leaked from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the group charged with helping the GOP win U.S. Senate races. In the wake of Politico’s publication of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, the memo’s architects were trying to help Republican candidates protect themselves from the growing backlash.
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The committee advises every Republican candidate to “be the compassionate, consensus builder on abortion.” The document stresses that most Americans believe “we should care for and support pregnant women in difficult circumstances.”
Missing from the memo is anything concrete about what policies offering “care” and “support” might look like. And its use of capital letters in advising Republicans on what they should deny demonstrate the party’s defensiveness. It said: “Republicans DO NOT want to take away contraception” and “Republicans DO NOT want to take away mammograms or other health care provided specifically to women.” Yes, and they “DO NOT want to throw doctors and women in jail.”
The memo makes you wonder if Republicans believe anything they say about abortion. Its implication is that the GOP wants to outlaw the practice but not punish anyone involved. Except with the equivalent of a traffic ticket, maybe?

Yet what legislators in Republican-led states are considering on reproductive issues doesn’t square with what GOP pollsters want their candidates to say. Since the Alito draft leaked, state Republican officials have raised all sorts of possibilities, including potentially restricting certain kinds of contraception. In more than a dozen states, abortion would become instantly illegal because of “trigger laws.” A bill cleared by a legislative committee in Louisiana last week would, The Post’s Caroline Kitchener reported, “classify abortion as homicide and allow prosecutors to criminally charge patients.”
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At least the Louisiana solons are intellectually consistent: If you insist that abortion is murder, shouldn’t you expect the law to treat it that way? Most Americans don’t see the matter in this light, which is what the NRSC memo concedes. But that fact speaks volumes about where the public — including many who think of themselves as pro-life — really stands.
Still, we should not dismiss the obligation for politicians to be “compassionate consensus builders” as nothing more than a cheap phrase aimed at getting Republicans through a rough patch. As a guide to how politicians should behave, it’s an excellent idea. For all our talk about polarization, there is more consensus in the country than we usually recognize, and it is typically a compassionate consensus.
Consider a Morning Consult-Politico poll from December finding that 76 percent of registered voters favored more funding for home health care for seniors and Americans with disabilities; 71 percent supported allowing Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices; and 63 percent favored paid family and medical leave for new parents.
Strikingly, each of these proposals won significant support from Republicans: 67 percent of Republicans favored the home-health-care initiative; 62 percent backed allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices; and 48 percent endorsed paid family and medical leave.
And when it came to direct help for women raising kids — pro-lifers, please take note — 53 percent of registered voters favored extending the child tax credit for another year, while only 33 percent were opposed. On this, Republicans were more skeptical, but the credit was still backed by more than one-third of those who identify with or lean toward the GOP.
These proposals were all part of President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) agenda. You’d think this would earn Biden praise as a “compassionate consensus builder.” His proposals to improve people’s lives enjoy broad — in many cases, bipartisan — public support.
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We are still awaiting the memo from Republican leaders urging close cooperation with Biden on these ideas.
True, Republicans reached a deal with Biden on infrastructure. Hooray for that. But they showed no inclination to work for consensus on the widely supported measures in BBB. On the contrary, these efforts were called “socialist spending” by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and “a massive socialist transformation” by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
There’s a reason so many conservative politicians seek to evade debating specific social policies aimed at improving the lives of Americans by dismissing them collectively as “socialism.” It’s the same reason the right prefers politics to revolve around cultural and religious warfare.
A politics of remedy, focused on programs aimed at solving day-to-day problems, broadly unites the country while splitting the Republican coalition. To avoid such fracturing, the right much prefers to talk about “grooming,” critical race theory and that old standby, the other side’s alleged “socialism.”
A GOP in which compassionate consensus builders played a much larger role would be a great blessing to the country. Alas, despite that memo, the party’s interests lie elsewhere.


FAUlty Gator

HR Legend
Oct 27, 2017
Missing from the memo is anything concrete about what policies offering “care” and “support” might look like.

So, it was exactly like the president's "important speech" on how to fix inflation and the economy.