BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The ancient idea that “The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend” is widely considered to be an old Arab proverb. But in truth, it can actually be traced to the military strategy writings of Kautilya who is often referred to as the “Indian Machiavelli.” Kautilya’s 4thcentury BC treatise on warfare and economic policy is named the Arthashastraor the “Science of Politics” but has a much broader scope and actually addresses the collective ethics that hold a society together.
It includes books on the nature of government, law, civil and criminal court systems, economics, markets and trade, theories on war, the nature of peace and the duties and obligations of a king. It addresses public projects and advises that the king, in times and in areas devastated by famine, epidemic and such acts of nature, or by war, infrastructure should be reinforced and tax policy should reflect the needs of those regions.
Interestingly, while Kautilya’s work contains powerful messages regarding the common good, the most enduring concept of the Arthashastra is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” an idea that fuels the partisan divides in our nation and in our state. Unfortunately, activists on the left and right leave little room for lawmakers to overcome that political chasm.
The most recent case in point is involves the couple of dozen Democratic candidates for president. Last week when one of the candidates, a former U.S. senator, pointed to his ability to work across the aisle, he was chastised for cooperating on legislation with Republican senators who were known segregationists. It did not matter that the common legislation had nothing to do with segregation.
Another recent article involved elements in the state Democratic Party who had urged party activists to chastise or blacklist current or former elected officials who were known to have endorsed a Republican in a political race. While such bi-partisan endorsements are unusual, the alternative is rigid, unbending partisanship that gives rise to the existence of rules such as the GOP’s 11thCommandment – “Thou Shall Not Speak Ill of Any Republican”– that has existed since the 1964 California Republican gubernatorial primary when Ronald Reagan was accused by a fellow Republican candidate of having been a “member of several communist front organizations.”
Today, it is not unusual for Republicans who work across the aisle to be called “RINO’s,” an acronym for “Republicans In Name Only” and Democrats are often called “DINO’s.” However, it is not unusual for members of one party to work with another. In fact, during the hard fought 2017 Oklahoma legislative session, the Democratic House Caucus had one goal and that was to increase state revenue for education and state services that had endured a decade of cuts.
The most obvious source of revenue was to increase the Gross Production Tax on oil and gas. Oklahoma’s rate on horizontal wells at that time was effectively in the 2% range while the rest of the nation ranged from 7% to 12%. With only 26 members in a 101-member body, there was not much that the Democrats could do until Democratic leadership recognized a split in the Republican caucus where one group did not want to increase the GPT at all and the other group had bought into the oil and gas industries plan to cap GPT at 3%.
Democrats took advantage of the GOP schism, siding with a faction of the GOP that refused to increase GPT to the paltry level sought by oil and gas and the state chamber. Then, when negotiations yielded not 3, not 4 but a GPT increase to 5%, Democrats unanimously shifted their votes to complete a bi-partisan bill that provided sufficient revenue to make education funding that year and this year much easier.
Frustratingly when the dust cleared, the oil and gas industry chastised Republican legislators for caving to the demands of Democrats and Democratic legislators caught flak from constituents for not getting the GPT set at 10% or at least the national average.
Sometimes, in the end, it is tough to tell who your enemies are and who your friends are.
– Chickasha Democrat David Perryman represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House and serves as minority floor leader