By that measure, the collective IQ of Congress would rank somewhere between vaguely idiotic and utterly moronic. The complete dysfunction that has taken hold in Congress, after all, is in many ways a product of the inability of a group of people to wrestle with the opposing solutions of tax increases and spending cuts. The idea that some form of added revenue and hefty spending cuts can coexist side by side without hurting the economy was so unthinkable to many in the GOP that it helped to break down the system.
Now that the supercommittee is wrestling with similar issues as it tries to cut $1.2 trillion from the budget by Nov. 23, there are signs—albeit tentative ones—of Fitzgerald’s mark of intelligence after all. Two conservative lawmakers who are also members of the powerful deficit committee, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), have begun lobbying their colleagues to embrace hundreds of billions of dollars in tax hikes as part of the group’s work. Their proposal makes significant cuts and lowers tax rates, but indirectly raises revenues by eliminating certain loopholes and deductions.
Their party patriots, as reported by the Post’s Peter Wallsten, are aghast at the idea that these men might be able to—gasp!—see two sides to resolving this problem at one time. “We’ve not had a conversation like this within the party in two decades,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), apparently astonished at the concept that any conservative would even let such an idea enter his mind.
Who knows whether the proposal could succeed. Democrats have dismissed the notion that the tax hikes are a concession because of other cuts offered to the wealthy. There’s still plenty of skepticism that a deal will be reached by the now looming Nov. 23 deadline. And the shocking development that two Republicans might actually be willing to eliminate tax loopholes is hardly a sign that Congress’s dysfunctional tendencies are over.
But perhaps it’s a first step toward recognizing that the dogmatic principles that all too often drive the political conversation in this country are downright ineffective. Many of our leaders seem to believe that it is only by showing their unwavering faith in a particular credo that they can prove their strength. Somehow, steadfast allegiance to doctrine has come to define leadership in this country, rather than open-mindedness, albeit anchored in one’s principles.
Nuance and pragmatism, as President Obama has made clear, do not always help. But they are hardly antithetical to leadership, and indeed should be part of any leader’s attributes. Fitzgerald called an ability to function amid contradictory ideas the mark of a first-rate intelligence. But one could just as easily call it the mark of a first-rate leader.
More from On Leadership:
Bowles & Simpson: The supercommittee’s big question
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