June 7, 2012


Q&A: The Hard Truth About Political Compromise (Boston Globe, June 03, 2012)

Increasingly, this hardened attitude represents a danger to democracy and the economy. (Think of last summer's debt-ceiling standoff--likely to be reprised this summer.) And it stems, according to two political scientists, from our failure to understand what compromise really is. In their new book, "The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It," Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson argue that Americans have an inaccurate view of compromise. In particular, they say, we vastly underestimate the costs of rejecting it.

Nowadays, they write, we have a simplistic view of compromise. We tend to think of compromise in terms of settling for less: We want two scoops of ice cream, but settle for one. That might describe what happens when you and your spouse compromise over the size of a new television--but it doesn't work, the authors show, when it comes to politics. Political compromise requires more than settling; it requires actually letting the other side make progress on its agenda, even if you find that agenda repugnant. Even worse, political compromises are often incoherent. A compromise on immigration, for example, might mean combining ideas that seem to work against one another, like amnesty for illegal immigrants and strict rules criminalizing illegal immigration.

All of this makes it tempting to believe that we can do without compromise. But, Gutmann and Thompson warn, the alternative is worse. A vote against compromise might feel like a vote for purity, for boldness--but it's actually a vote for the status quo. In a democracy where people disagree on fundamental questions, no-compromise politicians create logjams, not progress. So when we vote for hyperpartisan politicians who promise to save us from the pain and frustration of compromise, what we are really doing is voting, repeatedly, for nothing to change.

The reality is that with the paradigm shifting from the Second Way to the Third, every compromise is a loss for the Left and a win for conservatives.  Of course, because the Third Way puts much of the Second on sounder financial footing, these compromises are also losses for the the Right.  You can't really blame the Left and Right for wanting nothing to change.
Posted by at June 7, 2012 5:33 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus