Whatever Happened to “Compromise?”

Whatever Happened to “Compromise?”

I never thought I’d find myself writing about politics, but a recent 60 Minutes interview highlighted the need for someone to speak out.  As I write this, the election is over, and things haven’t changed much.  The Democrats still control the White House and the Senate, and the Republicans still control the House.  Our country is facing some of the biggest challenges we’ve seen in generations.  The results of our politicians’ actions (or inaction) could have a significant impact on the performance of our capital markets, even our future standard of living.  Is there any hope for creative, thoughtful solutions from our elected leaders?

The Senate majority and minority leaders, respectively Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, were interviewed recently by a 60 Minutes reporter.  He asked them why the Senate has been unable to get together and pass legislation on major issues.  The answers he got from our two top leaders were not encouraging.  Harry Reid simply accused the Republicans.  “Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said, ‘I reject the word compromise.’ That’s exactly what he said.”  As the leader of the Senate, you’d expect Reid to do something to break the logjam.  But he offered nothing other than complaints.

Mitch McConnell was worse.  “The American people took a look at [ObamaCare, massive debts, and the deficit], Steve, after two years and said, ‘Please, stop. We don’t want any more of that.’”  He didn’t even bring up the concept of compromise.  (As an aside, it’s somewhat humorous that McConnell has assumed the role of spokesperson for the American people, given the fact that he is the elected representative of only 1.4% of them.  It’s also unclear whether or not he’s actually listening to them, since polls indicate that the American people are demanding solutions from their elected leaders rather than rhetoric about what they allegedly want.)

A Bloomberg Business Week (BBW) reporter interviewed several Senators this summer that chose to leave the Senate after long careers there because of frustration.  Their candid statements about life in the Senate today served to vividly highlight the problems.  From Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota):  “Last year I had a senior colleague say, ‘Your problem, Conrad, is you are too solutions-oriented. You have never understood that this is political theater.’  I thought, ‘Wow, it is time for me to leave.’”  Gary Ackerman (D-New York) complained that “It’s a different era. People more than ever since I can remember are concerned about being out of step and out of line with their political party and won’t cross over.”

My own view is that compromise is at the heart of any democracy.  No one individual or group has all the right answers.  No group can find good solutions, especially to complex problems such as those we face today, without compromising.  A democracy without compromise is dysfunctional.  Now that the election is over, are our newly elected officials ready to sit down together?  They would do well to heed the view of Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), another ex-Senator interviewed by BBW:  “There is a huge disconnect between Washington-elected officials and the rest of America and the rest of America knows it.”  Senators Reid and McConnell, now is time to start listening and to start compromising.

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