To compromise or not to compromise, that is the question. In the wake of the new Pew Research Center (here as a downloadable PDF) poll measuring the widening “compromise gap” between the parties, authors Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson have released a timely new book, The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It. If you don’t have time to read the entire book, Ruth Marcus’ Washington Post column is a must-read. A choice excerpt from her column:
“In 1987, 66 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats said they favored political leaders willing to compromise. In 2012, nearly the same share of Republicans — 68 percent — took this view, while the proportion of pro-compromise Democrats had risen to 90 percent.”
“Here is the internal tension in political compromise,” they write. “The democratic process requires politicians both to resist compromise and to embrace it.”
The problem occurs when the prevalence of the permanent campaign transplants the uncompromising mind-set to the sphere of governing, like an “invasive species” growing out of control.
Gutmann and Thompson distinguish between achieving compromise and finding common ground. However desirable finding common ground may be, the parties’ stark ideological divide means that the possibility of achieving it becomes smaller the more important the issue involved.