“Just say no.” That anti-drug campaign response coined by First Lady Nancy Reagan has become the motto of opponents of government policy.
Critics can reject a policy without proposing an alternative. Their aim is to stop government action, not to solve problems.
To avoid the label of being nothing more than naysayers, opponents may claim they are offering an alternative, though they know it is either impractical, impossible or both.
The obvious recent example was the speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a joint session of Congress. His purpose was to use an American national platform to reject the unfinished nuclear negotiations between the United States plus five other world powers with Iran.
The goal shared by the so-called “five plus one” countries and Israel is to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. The Iranians claim that they only seek peacetime uses of nuclear energy but almost nobody believes them.
Netanyahu argued there should be no deal with Iran, even if it froze its nuclear development for at least 10 years. His alternative, without providing any assurance that it could possibly work, is to break off talks immediately and keep pressing Iran so that it gives up any chance for nuclear energy.
His optimism about the effects of squeezing Iran is shared by no world power. Breaking off the talks could leave only the option of a military attack on Iran to destroy its facilities. That amounts to the Israeli Prime Minister saying to the U.S.: “Let’s you and them fight.”
That alternative is obviously unacceptable. In the absence of a realistic alternative, Netanyahu’s position amounts to “just say no.”
Why did the Republicans invite him to speak? They knew he would attack President Obama’s negotiating policy, giving them yet another way of undermining the president.
How about U.S. immigration policy? Opponents of allowing most of the illegal immigrants to remain in the country offer no alternative about what to do with them. Instead, they insist the government must first seal the borders.
That’s not an alternative when it comes to those already in the U.S., and it is impossible. So the opponents’ response amounts to saying that matters should be left in their currently confused state without even trying to resolve the problem.
One answer might be to throw out as many of them as possible. That’s just what the Obama administration has done by deporting two million immigrants.
The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare? House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal it without providing an alternative for the millions of people unable to find reasonably priced health insurance.
The only alternative half-heartedly advanced is to retain coverage that people have gained under Obamacare temporarily and then leave it to the states to come with health care insurance plans. Opponents must know that many states will do nothing.
Not all the “just say no” fault lies with the GOP. Take the Keystone XL pipeline.
Though the now-completed government review has taken many years instead of the usual several months, Obama is still hiding behind the regulatory process and refusing to make a decision. It seems clear he is against it. Congress has tried unsuccessfully to force the hand of man seemingly determined to leave no fingerprints.
The threats worrying Obama already exist; other pipelines transporting Canadian fuel into the U.S. carry the same kind of oil. And there is an alternative to Keystone: far more dangerous rail transportation of oil. A fuel train derailed just last week.
The ‘just say no” policy may be producing a worse result than allowing Keystone XL, which has developed into an environmental rallying point more than constituting a major new threat.
None of this “just say no” discussion is meant to take sides on the substance of the issues. Maybe there are better outcomes than are now foreseen for Iran, immigration, health care and oil pipelines.
But Americans will never get to work out the best solutions to the problems to the issues they raise so long as opponents insist on playing “gotcha.” These issues are not merely matters of political debate. The political system needs to produce results.
Policy makers should understand that no solution is perfect and that people want workable compromises, not endless and sometime dangerous political battles.
Perhaps it is time to show some courage and repeat what House Speaker John Boehner did on immigration: put together coalitions to produce results regardless of party. He was willing to pass a bill depending on votes of both parties, not only the majority Republicans.