On the Political Art of Compromise

          Published on August 3, 2012, Pawtucket Times

          The bipartisan spirit is briefly alive and well inside the Beltway.  With the Presidential and Congressional elections looming, just a little more than three months away, top Democratic and Republican Leadership this week forged an agreement to pass a “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government afloat for six months after the current budget year ends at the end of September. 

          Politically speaking, who wants to face the wrath of American voters fueled by the possibility of a government shut down before Election Day on November 6, 2012?  Not our lawmakers.

           After the upcoming November election, America’s political system may well become more polarized creating Congressional gridlock, if Tea Party candidates come to Washington, DC supporting the philosophy of  “no-compromise.”  If this occurs major policy decisions like reforming the nation’s retirement system and keeping Medicare afloat might happen only when the proverbial “Hell freezes over.”

Tea Party on the Rampage

         Tea Party backed candidate, Ted Cruz, won the Texas Republican Senate primary this week, potentially tilting the Senate toward the right if he wins in November. Over the years, we have seen moderate Republicans toppled by candidates aligned to the Tea Party who view working across the aisle as a weakness and compromise as a political sin.

        In one instance, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a six-term GOP Senator lost his Republican primary race two months ago against State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was backed by a coalition of Tea Party-aligned groups.  In his concession speech, the 80 year old Lugar warned Mourdock  that his goal of riding “the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it” won’t be able to problem solve or govern.” The longest serving Senator in the State’s history also warned that “unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator.”  

       Last February, Senator Olympia Snow, of Maine, chose voluntary to walk away from the U.S. Senate after being a moderate voice in that chamber of 33 years, noting her decision was based on intense partisan bickering that now echoes throughout the Halls of Congress. 

       “Politics has been defined as the art of the possible.  That means compromise on both sides is needed to move the public business forward,” says Susan Sweet, a well-know lobbyist and consultant for nonprofit agencies and causes.  While the Democratic Party encompasses people of wide philosophies, the Republican party has become a party of “intransient idealogues,” observes Sweet. “Their sharp turn to the right has distanced and alienated moderate Republicans who previously formed a bridge for compromise and progress.  Moderates, like the late Senator Nelson Rockefeller of New York and the late Senator John Chafee were examples of the politicians who knew the art of politics, how to negotiate and when to compromise.

Reaching Across the Aisle

         But wait, Senator Orrin Hatch, concludes in an opinion piece, “Ted Kennedy: Later Senator Sought Bipartisan,” in the October 22, 2009, published in US News, you can support your political party’s philosophy and still be bipartisan, too.               

         The Republican Senator from Utah, who has served his state since 1977, considered Kennedy, who fought for the principles and philosophy of the Democratic Party, one of the nation’s greatest leaders for reaching across the aisle.

        Considered to be one of the most liberal Democrats in the last 50 years, who spearheaded almost every Democratic cause, Senator Hatch applauded his friends “ability and willingness to set party aside when there was some good to be done.”

         According to Senator Hatch in his opinion piece, the failing of American politics results from “politicians being too willing to toe the party line,”  not wanting to compromise their political agenda, “even when accepting the ideas and contributions of those outside their Party will advance their cause.”

            Sen. Hatch also viewed the late Democratic Senator’s lasting political legacy was “his unwillingness to let partisanship ruin a good opportunity to help those in need, and his ability to inspire others to follow his example.”

           Also, noted in Sen. Hatch’s USNews opinion piece, when in the minority, Senator Kennedy successfully enacted legislation because of his willingness to “move to the center or even the center-right when he recognized that Republicans shared his goals, even if they had different ideas on how to achieve those goals.”

           When the Democrats-controlled Congress, Senator Kennedy reached out to the minority GOP to get his legislation passed.  Senator Hatch noted that Massachusetts Senior Senator “had the political courage to defy interest groups and even his own party in order to reach bipartisan compromise,” to move legislation, specifically, the Children Health Insurance Program, the Ryan White AIDS Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

          Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, views Senator Kennedy’s most famous bipartisan legislation to be No Child Left Behind.  “He worked closely with President George W. Bush to pass this bill.  He reached across the political aisle and was able to bring Republicans and Democrats together to pass this education reform, said the former Rhode Islander, noting that this was one of many such bipartisan successes on the Senator’s part.  There are few people left in the Senate who have the interest in or credibility for this type of outreach.

Campaigns Gearing Up for Votes

            By now, political candidates are mailing campaign literature to aging baby boomers and seniors, hoping to effectively deliver their political messages and ultimately to influence their votes.

            As the nation pulls out of the economic doldrums, voters must educate themselves to the real issues and read in between the lines of campaign literature to learn more about the candidate’s background and issues.

           Marking the ballot in the voting booth becomes even more difficult in heated partisan campaigns where you must separate political bickering, rhetoric and negative innuendoes from the substance of issues.

           Keeping Social Security afloat, fixing a broken Medicare program, or bringing fairness to the nation’s tax codes, will not happen if Congress cannot compromise or negotiate on legislative proposals.   No longer can our elected officials view issues either black or white, but can be shades of gray.

Rising to the Political Occasion

         Even with his human frailties, Sen. Kennedy rose to the political occasion time after time and to confront legislative challenges by reaching out to both political friends and foes.  One might say he wrote the tome on the art of political compromise and negotiations, a guide for both his Democratic and Republican Congressional Colleagues to follow.

             The rise of the Tea Party and its political philosophy of  “no-compromise” and “torch and burn” to ensure ideological purity, will have an adverse impact on every generation, from today’s seniors, their aging baby boomer children, and finally, to their young grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

                  Where are the Republican Congressional moderates of today when the nation sorely need’s them to do the public’s business.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  This commentary was published in the August 3, 2012 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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