OPINION: What’s the deal with compromise?

By Dominic Pino, Columnist

Compromise, compromise, compromise.  Every discussion about Congress is obsessed with compromise.  Republicans should compromise with Democrats, Democrats should compromise with Republicans, the House should compromise with the Senate, Congress should compromise with the White House, they should all compromise on immigration, healthcare, infrastructure, spending . . .

When pollsters ask Americans what they want Congress to do, they say they want to see compromise.  A Gallup poll from October 2017 shows that 54 percent of Americans believe that compromise is more important than sticking to beliefs for political leaders in Washington.  Only 18 percent believe that sticking to beliefs is more important.

Knowing that, you might think that Americans would be exuberant over the budget deal that was struck in the Senate on Feb. 7. You might think that Americans would be overjoyed to see “bipartisan compromise” in every headline the next morning.  You might think that Congress’ approval rating would shoot up to 25 percent (that’s right, “up” to 25 percent).  You might think any one of those things because Americans say they love compromise, and now they have it.

But you would be wrong.  The compromise is–I’ll try to phrase this nicely–a steaming pile of horse manure, and no one likes the smell of horse manure.  Look at the reactions in the House: Democrats are put off by the $160 billion increase to the Pentagon’s budget, and Republicans are perturbed by the accrual of national debt. Democratic voters didn’t send their representatives to Washington to jack up defense spending, and Republican voters didn’t send theirs to proliferate debt.  And nobody is happy about obscene deficit spending when the economy is thriving at full employment.

The polls show Americans on both sides want compromise, but neither side is happy with it.  What’s the deal with compromise?  It seems Americans answered Gallup’s question wrong.  Perhaps, though, they didn’t.  Perhaps they were asked the wrong question.

Let’s consider an analogy.  When assembling something, which do you prefer: wrenches or screwdrivers?  This question is silly on its face.

“It depends on what I am trying to do,” you might answer.  

If assembly requires bolts, the wrench is the way to go.  If it requires screws, the screwdriver is best.  That is because wrenches and screwdrivers are tools – they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The same can be said for compromise and sticking to beliefs.  Those are both means to an end.  Think of conflicts between children (actual children, not members of Congress).  Some situations are best resolved with compromise. God only knows how many millions of kids in the world are rightfully told, “Take turns!” by a parent each and every day.  On the other hand, some situations are best resolved by sticking to beliefs, i.e. kids should stand up to bullying because bullying is wrong.

The two need not be mutually exclusive, though.  Many assemblies require both bolts and screws and therefore require both wrenches and screwdrivers. Compromise and sticking to beliefs can be used simultaneously to achieve satisfactory resolutions.

Alas, the question is not whether Americans want their political leaders to compromise or stick to beliefs.  The question is what Americans want to see done about immigration, healthcare, infrastructure or the budget.  And I, for one, don’t care if senators compromised, stuck to beliefs, or played best-of-three rock-paper-scissors to make this irresponsible budget deal.  Let’s stop talking about compromise and start talking about what Congress should do.  Let them figure out which tools to use to make it happen.

Illustration by Mary Jane DeCarlo