Compromise is a funny word; it can be both positive and negative. As a verb, Webster defines it as “coming to agreement by mutual concession,” but it is also defined as “causing the impairment of” some thing. The former definition is one that we often prize in our leaders, but at other times, we punish them for the latter, if we view the subject of impairment to be principles. This apparent paradox can make it hard on our leaders. Recently, government leaders seem to have settled on the latter meaning of compromise.
Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) is one of nine senators who have decided to retire instead of seek re-election this year. He is generally viewed as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat who has, at times, been willing to break with his party leadership and work with Republicans on some issues. He commented in a recent interview that “when you get here [the Senate], the pressure by the two caucuses to kind of go along with ‘the team’ is pretty constant. And it’s gotten more so over the years…Any deviancy from party orthodoxy is viewed as an act of betrayal or a lack of moral fiber.” As he points out this is something that occurs in both major parties.
Our leaders’ unwillingness to come to agreement on important issues is problematic because many of the issues faced by our country cannot be solved by exclusively conservative or liberal means. One wonders what our government will be like if the Republican Party sweeps into power next year buoyed by members with strong Tea Party support. Tea Party candidates all around the country have campaigned on a platform of returning to “pure” or “true” conservatism that is uncompromising in principle. Many do not have any interest of working with President Obama or Democrats in Congress. Will this faction help the Republicans govern, or will it make it very difficult for anything to get done? Only time will tell. I hope that the burden of actually governing for “we the people” will make practicality prevail over principle.
I leave you with this: Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman and philosopher during the 18th century. He was a member of the British Parliament and is mainly remembered for his support of the American Revolution and later his opposition to the French Revolution (a revolution which many of our Founding Fathers supported). He once said, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” During the 19th century, he was praised by both liberals and conservatives. Perhaps our political leaders should take note and begin the work of reviving the slowly dying art of compromise. I think the country will be better for it. Join the Discourse!