Friday, August 5, 2011

The Art of Compromise

Compromise was finally victorious, although there were several days when it seemed that partisanship and intransigence were going end up being triumphant.
I am speaking about the debt ceiling crisis, which was finally averted on August 2, the day of the deadline. The U.S. House of Representatives voted the day before to pass the compromise bill by a rather decisive vote, 269-161. Then on Tuesday the Senate also passed the bill decisively, 74-26.
It is noteworthy that in the House there were 95 Democrats and 66 Republicans against the bill and in the Senate there were 19 Republicans and six Democrats (and one Independent) who voted No—but for opposite reasons. Right-wing Republicans voted against it because it did not cut enough, whereas left-wing Democrats voted against it because it provided no additional revenue and because of fear that there were needy people who would be hurt by the cuts.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, called the bill “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich” (whatever that means) and voted against it. Representing the district just below Kansas City, Republican Vicky Hartzler, about whom I wrote recently, also voted against it, asserting that the bill “has the wrong priorities for my district and for America.”
On Monday I heard and read strong criticism of the passage of the debt ceiling bill from both the Right and the Left. That is one indication that the bill was a compromise, for compromise means that neither side is satisfied. (House Speaker Boehner did say, however, that he got 98% of what he wanted.)
But who compromised the most? I think it is clear that the President and the Democrats made the greater compromise. Some have even said that Obama is now characterized not by “Yes I can” but by “Yes I cave.” But what other choice did he have? He had to do what was best for the country, and it became apparent that the right-wing Republicans in the House were not going to make any compromise.
Last week’s cover, and cover story, of The Economist is “Turning Japanese,” a serious criticism of President Obama and German Chancellor Merkle and their lack of sufficient leadership (and an embarrassment to Japan). But that news journal’s strongest criticism is of Republican congressmen [sic] who “have recklessly used [the debt ceiling] as a political tool to embarrass Barack Obama.”
In that same July 29th issue is an article called “Red means recalcitrant,” which is based on a survey which indicates that Republicans are far less willing to compromise than Democrats. And that is what we saw played out in weeks prior to the August 1-2 vote in the U.S. Congress.

In 1919, the German economist and sociologist Max Weber wrote an essay (“Politics as a Vocation”) in which he stated that politics is the art of compromise and decision-making based on social benefits weighed against costs. Political action, Weber argued, cannot be rooted only in conviction, since one person’s conviction can be another’s social anathema. Thus, a politician should combine the ethic of ultimate ends with an ethic of responsibility.
It can certainly be argued that the latter is what the President did and what most Republican congresspersons were almost completely unwilling to do. It is sad when politicians lose the art of compromise. But that seems to be the case for a large number of U.S. politicians at the present time.


  1. Well, if compromise is a virtue . . .

  2. Compromise is, or is not, a virtue depending on when and why the compromise is, or is not, made.

    I hope to write more about compromise later this month. It is a rather complex issue that deserves serious thought.

  3. My esteemed Thinking Friend, who often comments, wrote in a e-mail,

    "I've also heard, 'Politics is the art of the possible.' This 'Deal' was made almost impossible by the Tea Party folks, but the President and wiser politicians made it possible, even if quite other than what they wanted."

  4. A few minutes ago I received the following e-mail message from a Thinking Friend in south Missouri, a TF I don't hear from often but one whose opinions I appreciate and evaluate highly:

    "A good word, Leroy. When politicians are elected based on a narrow ideology, and when they sign 'pledges' there is no room left for compromise. I hope more Americans will wake up to how destructive such rigidity is to the political process in a democracy."

  5. Bi-partisan commissions have offered some very reasonable compromises, including one named by President Obama. None have carried enough weight to implement the politically unthinkable. Sen. John Kerry was very irritated with the outcome of the last deficit/debt commission which he co-chaired with Sen. Danforth - who called their excellent work a total waste of time and resources, after it was rejected by both parties (20 years ago). I can't believe that Sen. Kerry would subject himself to this again.

    Maybe it is best to stick to principles and force things to a head. Status quo doesn't work and bi-partisanship doesn't work - for either party. Both are very wrong, but adored by their wings for being wrong. This is the foundation of no compromise.