Imagine how things could play out if two political enemies, after years of stalemate and a foreseeable future of more of the same, realized that half a loaf now was better than a whole loaf never and decided to sit down together and say, “Look, let’s take half of what you want and half of what we want and call it good.”

Jim Elliott
Jim Elliott

That would be a miracle, of course, because each party is hell-bent on waiting until they have the complete political advantage of the other so that they can grab that whole loaf of bread and run with it, which, of course, would take a different miracle.

Both Democrats and Republicans have already had the complete advantage of one another and couldn’t get much—if anything—done the way they really wanted it. Democrats nine years ago had full control of government and came up with a half-baked national health care policy that hasn’t really pleased anybody. This, in my estimation, happened because they had a president who didn’t want to make the other party angry.

Now, Republicans have had total control of the government for nine months and can’t even get done what they all agree needs to be done, on top of which they are faced with a president who doesn’t care if they do get anything done unless it is his idea.

Can Republicans still be harboring the illusion that one day their members will come to a point where they are all in agreement with each other and with the president and get their wishes met? Can the Democrats possibly be thinking that if they regain control of Congress they will able to get anything past the Republican president?

They are all playing for the long game when there is no long game that they can win.

Basically, all the American people — all of them, all races, creeds, and political persuasions — want is to be left in peace to work toward what they consider a better future for themselves. Basically, all the political parties want is the ability to be the only ones to control that future.

There are three branches of government in America and the two of them, the presidency and the Congress, are in a complete state of paralysis, simply because of political differences. The political parties which control this debacle are, each of them, full of chicanery, ignorance, and self-defeating illusion.

Consider that the Republicans were aghast at increasing the deficit by helping Americans get health insurance, but have absolutely no worries about increasing the deficit by giving massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Consider that the Democrats, who think it is OK to increase the deficit by giving health-care benefits will consider increasing the deficit through tax breaks to be anathema.

If Congress has any pride in itself as an institution it will remember that neither are they lackeys of the president nor is the president their lackey. The political factions have within their power the ability to combine forces to pass legislation without presidential approval and protect it from a presidential veto.

The major stumbling block to all this is the fear of being un-elected. Compromise is not in the vocabulary of organizations on the right or left when it comes to ideology and it is they who play on and control the emotions of American voters — what is left of them. True leadership can be accomplished only by people who are not worrying about their re-election. For this reason, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, stands high in my estimation.

These people are not hired to work for a political party, they are hired to work for the nation as a whole, something of which they need to be reminded.

Of course, all of this is a seemingly unobtainable dream, but it is still something preferable to work toward than to sustain the very real nightmare we are living through.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.