Republicans and the Heroism of Doing the Right Thing

by Bob Schwartz

Sir Walter Raeligh
Most of the time, there are no medals for doing the right thing. Holding open a door for someone whose arms are laden with packages is just a civil idea. Laying down your cloak so that the Queen doesn’t get her feet wet probably earns you some bonus points (and a dirty cloak), but it’s not exactly heroic.

It’s now clear that at this moment, the right thing to do about the fiscal [precipice you can fall from] is to extend tax cuts for all but the highest incomes, and have the just-elected new Congress come back in a month to do the hard work of reaching a long term solution. Who knows? Maybe that Congress will find a way to maintain lower tax rates for incomes above $250,000, along with carefully considered spending cuts and overall tax reform.

Republicans and their leaders find themselves caught between irreconcilable considerations. Among them is not just the past election but the evidence that, more than not, they will be blamed if no agreement is reached. Pulling another direction is an absolutist and ideological demand that anything looking like a tax increase is almost literally profane.

In spite of that, there are reports that at least some Republicans are in the mood to make that tax deal—maybe because of realpolitik, but maybe because it is the right thing. Either way, there seems to be some fear in the party that those Republicans will be seen as weak and capitulating to the President and the Democrats. That is one of the last cards that hardliners will play.

Those sensible Republicans shouldn’t worry. They will be seen as heroes by many Americans. That’s one of the dynamics going on right now. Some Republicans are worried about being on the wrong side of demographics and national electoral politics, and they should be. It’s worse, though it takes a bit more vision, to see that you might be on the wrong side of history.

Somewhere in between is being on the wrong side of heroism. Not being a hero is not equivalent to being a coward. Standing by and letting the wrong, or at least not optimal, thing happen is not universally indictable. But nothing beats being hero. Here’s another chance.