• Ed Flattau

The Art of Compromise

Compromise is not only the implicit ethical life blood of a vibrant democracy. It is also the primary means of avoiding legislative paralysis and a national quagmire.

That is why most politicians (including the current crop of Democratic presidential aspirants) have taken pains to stress their past and future effectiveness in working across party lines.

That said, there are lawmakers at both ends of the political spectrum who operate from the premise that “it’s my way or the highway”. They need to be reminded that such a stance is a prescription for bringing government to a grinding halt. It is a counter-productive posture with one striking exception.

Engaging in democracy is not a zero sum game unless further concessions would mean the demise of one’s principles and/or the cause in question.

Environmental controversies provide graphic illustrations of the art of compromise. For example, there should be a limit to development adjacent to an ecologically productive wetland when further human encroachment would stifle the natural system’s regenerative cycle. Hunting a species should be stopped in its tracks when further loss would reduce the prey population to below replacement levels.

In a democracy, controversies are ideally resolved through negotiation and persuasion. But the intensely partisan atmosphere currently gripping the nation’s capital

is not conducive to the traditional give and take. It is why we need more corrective responses like the newly formed “For Country” Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. It consists of Democratic and Republican members who share the common experience of being military veterans and hope to parlay that into a fertile field for compromise.

Compromise can require a delicate balance, but such difficulty is the price of democracy. Texas congressman and presidential contender Beto O’Rourke provides a good example of walking a fine line. In Congress, he voted to support local oil drillers in

his district, yet managed to register a 95 out of 100 score with the League of Conservation Voters, the lobbying arm of the national environmental movement.

Impatient environmentalists will routinely be forced to tolerate progress at an incremental pace (provided it is fast enough to avert the danger of time running out).

Only when all flexibility is exhausted should an environmental activist assume an unyielding stance. Negotiation should then be abandoned solely in favor of persuasive techniques to attract a sufficient majority to prevail in the public arena.

For those on the hard Left and Right of the political universe who reject the concept of compromise as a matter of principle, a cautionary note. Don’t confuse partisanship with patriotism.


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