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Compromise Makes America Better

  • brendagiven
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Signing of the U.S. Constitution in the State House in Philadelphia, MPI/Archive Photos / Getty Images


Compromise is the fuel of our nation’s progress and the one thing that keeps us on a measured course away from harmful extremes. The core idea of the Constitution was to restrain excess by forcing competing powers and factions to bargain and build consensus.

Our political system just doesn’t work without cooperation between political majorities and minorities. Without compromise, Congress is unable to carry out its most basic responsibilities or make even the simplest decisions, pass a budget or keep the government open. Critical problems go unaddressed, confidence in government plummets and resentment and anger builds in Congress and the electorate. Sound familiar?

Before the 1990’s, no major piece of legislation was passed without bipartisan support– not the original Social Security Act, Medicare, the Corporation for Public BroadcastingNASA, nor the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Bipartisan compromise, described by the Bipartisan Policy Center, gave us signature legislation that shaped the Country we are today.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine controversial, but key legislative steps forward, like the Civil Rights Bill, Endangered Species Act or ADA, gaining bipartisan support today.

  • The Civil Rights Bill – Congressional Republicans bailed out both Kennedy and Johnson at key junctures in 1963 and 1964. Most importantly, Senate GOP leader Dirksen amended the bill to address conservative concerns and publicly declared “No army is stronger than an idea whose time has come” to help push the bill over the finish line.
  • The Endangered Species Act – in 1973, Richard Nixon called on Congress to make sweeping changes to environmental policy. Democrats authored a bill which drew wide Republican support. In 2009, 20 species were delisted from “endangered” to “threatened” due to recovery efforts required by the bill.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act –Landmark civil rights legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability was signed into law by President H.W. Bush in 1990. The bill was difficult to pass, due to concerns about undue burden on employers, but Senators Bob Dole and George Mitchell worked tirelessly to garner bi-partisan support.

Our history has also benefited from leaders who went out of their way to build consensus with minorities for the greater good of the country. Imagine if that could happen today.

  • Lincoln’s Team of Rivals in 1860 – Lincoln appointed all 3 of his Republican election rivals to his cabinet and added a Democrat, Edwin Stanton, as his Secretary of War. This was considered a watershed political moment. Lincoln explained, “he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because they sometimes disagreed with him”.
  • Truman’s Supreme Court Appointee in 1945 – FDR appointed 7 Democratic Supreme Court justices during his long tenure, so Republicans were quite surprised when Truman appointed Republican Ohio Senator Harold Burton to the Court as a chance to find common ground with congressional opposition.

The common good in a pluralist democracy is not possible without compromise. Yet we don’t appreciate the distinctive value of compromise. We also tend to think the only way to compromise is to find common ground on which everyone agrees, which is incredibly difficult and increasingly bleak in today’s polarized environment.

A more realistic approach is for each party to gain something by sacrificing something. This kind of classic compromise is easier to accomplish, and “shared sacrifice” usually yields bigger and bolder compromises that improve the status quo. Classic compromises also embody the disagreements; for example, The Great Compromise gave large states population representation in the House and small states equal representation in the Senate. Since both parties benefit, they value the process. No one surrenders, everyone wins.

“A good compromise requires a modicum of trust and a tone of political bravery, and even then, is not universally acceptable,” said former GOP Representative Bill Frenzel of Minnesota. Where are those brave leaders that place country over party today? And would Americans reward them for running a proper government that works as a result of compromise?

Praise for the idea of compromise is consistently coupled with resistance to realize it. Perhaps if we elected politicians more open to the collective wisdom of all the people, who took into account the concerns of the entire population, not just those who elected them, we might find the compromise necessary for a robust democracy. We might engage moderate Americans in the political process. We might tone down the polarized rhetoric. And we might move forward on difficult, but critical issues like Climate Change and Income Inequality.

You can lead the way by supporting political compromise and the brave candidates willing to build consensus for the greater good. Country over party. You are the change!

  • Join wethepeople.org. Get in on the ground floor of our crowdsourced democracy movement to bring together Democrats, Independents and Republicans to represent the common interest of all citizens. Your contribution helps empower Americans to propose, refine and vote on common-sense political solutions and compete with special interests for political influence.

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Author: brendagiven

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