The Bridge on the River Potomac?

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In the wake of Tuesday’s election, we are hearing lots of talk about bipartisanship and statesmanship, with the unstated premise that statesmanship and bipartisanship are automatically the same thing.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, the long, distinguished career that marks a statesman oft-times comes about not because of compromise, but because of an unyielding devotion to principle that ensures its success by showing political enemies no quarter. Consider the 19th century British rivals Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Surely these two qualify as among our greatest statesmen, yet they would just as soon have bit off each other’s ears like Mike Tyson did to Evander Holyfield than sit politely in the same room with each other, let alone compromise for the purpose of some supposed bipartisan progress.

If we are being honest, politics is a form of war, except instead of being fought with weaponry for the control of territory, it is fought with words for the control of the treasury.

It is from such a point of view that we must begin to understand the monumentally important elections of Nov. 6. When we hear talk of bipartisanship going forward, it is important to realize that what is being proposed is not compromise, but capitulation.

Reaching across the aisle for the support of your sworn enemies is done to advance your own agenda and not out of some naive belief that by giving up your own principles you are doing the country some vague good. President Obama no more wants to advance principles of limited government that House Speaker John Boehner wants to raises taxes to fund the welfare state. If they work together, it is not for the good of the country — because they don’t remotely agree about what that is — it is for the sole purpose of trying to outmaneuver the other into looking weak.

Think of it this way. Although it is common to describe an election as a hard-fought war, it is much less common to follow through to the natural corollary that wars have victors and losers — and consequences.

The victory of President Obama and his Democratic allies gives them power that is nearly inestimable. In particular, the president’s opportunity to name as many as three more Supreme Court justices over the next four years (to add to the two he has already appointed) could make him one of the most powerful presidents in history.

With those appointments, he can assure that any program he and the Congress put into place will pass constitutional muster — since the Constitution is ultimately no more than what the Supreme Court says it is.

Assuming the president recognizes this — and there is no reason to think he does not since he taught constitutional law — he will immediately set about trying to implement program after program that will test the limits of power. After all, this president came into office stating baldly that he intended to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America.

So the question for Republicans, the vanquished foe, is what do they do now? If the election battle was indeed a war of ideas, and the president’s ideas prevailed, where does that leave the losing party?

Let’s be brutally frank. In essence, Republicans are now prisoners of war who have a hard decision to make: Should they collaborate with their captors in order to try to obtain better treatment for themselves and their constituents? Or should they work to sabotage the projects, hopes and dreams of their enemy.

Think of it as the real-life political version of “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” a 1957 film which was itself a fictionalized version of a struggle in World War II between the Japanese army and their British prisoners, who were conscripted to build a railway route between Thailand and Burma to support the Japanese war effort.

In the film, the British POW commander Lt. Col. Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness) after a certain point loses sight of his ideals and becomes concerned only with “making progress” to build the bridge and meet the deadlines that have been imposed on him and his soldiers by the Japanese. It becomes a matter of pride to him to overcome all obstacles to build the bridge — and to build the best bridge he can — so that the achievement will be a monument to his own ingenuity and his soldiers’ hard work. He forgets that the purpose of the bridge will be to benefit his nation’s enemy and to aid in the enslavement of hundreds of thousands more in Burma.

By the same token, the Republicans in Congress must now decide whether they will work for principle — to stand up for their own ideals — or whether they will work to help President Obama build his lasting legacy and somehow claim it as their own even though it violates their core principles and the sacred trust the voters placed in them.

The choices they make over the next four years will determine the future of the Republican Party — or whether it will even have a future. And perhaps those choices are already delimited by the consequences of past choices.

Consider this: The “bridge” that President Obama hopes to build is the infrastructure of socialism that will be used to gradually redistribute our nation’s wealth. One of the pillars of that bridge is Obamacare, but there are many other pillars as well, such as free college education, free contraceptives, free phones — you name it! If it’s a valuable commodity that someone somewhere can’t afford, then there is sure to be a demand that it be provided by the government as part of a newly defined “human right” to contraceptives, college education or Obamaphones.

On the other hand, the Republicans want to blow up that “bridge to socialism” with the dynamite of fiscal austerity. No more free stuff till the national debt of $16 trillion balances out at zero. Then we can talk about compromise.

Yet, there will be those who speak in hushed tones about bipartisanship, about progress, about statesmanship. Don’t believe it. If you are for compromise between Democrats and Republicans, then you are just as lost in illusion as Lt. Col. Nicholson was in “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.” If you want the Republicans to just go along with Obama and help him build his socialist legacy, then you might as well be rooting for the Japanese to complete their Burma Railway and put more of Southeast Asia into darkness and slavery.

Is that too strong a description of what we face? I say no. The rivalry between the blue and red states is just as real and just as ardent as the rivalry between the British and the Japanese, or between the blue and the gray states in the Civil War. Bipartisanship is not possible under such circumstances.

Do not imagine that building a bridge between Republicans and Democrats in these perilous times is good for the country. Blow up that bridge on the River Potomac, and let’s get on with the war to determine whether “a nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” can long endure.

That is the proper business of statesmen worthy of the name.

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