Those who work towards a satisfying compromise should not always have their conviction to principle questioned.
By Joan Vennochi
The Boston Globe
May 27, 2005
A lot of people cheered when the far left and the far right expressed outrage over the recent announcement of compromise in Washington.
A bipartisan group of senators came together to avert a showdown over judicial nominations. The solution may not be perfect. But by breaking through routinely poisonous rhetoric and daily, dreary deadlock, the public saw enticing possibility: Something might actually happen in Washington — rather than not happen. Amazingly, Senate Republicans and Democrats were working together to achieve a positive result.
The potential for compromise infuriated the right, and the left, too.
That is because both extremes reject the idea that they must give up something to achieve something worthwhile. With that rejection, they refuse to acknowledge that the language of moderation is the language most Americans long to hear.
After the November election, Washington was paralyzed anew by political extremes. The right, counting on Republican control of the House and Senate, wants its agenda fulfilled to the letter. The left expects minority party leaders to block whatever the right desires. These endless, mind-numbing battles are presented to voters as an honest day’s labor. But voters are working people who know better. Accomplishing nothing on the job while fighting with colleagues does not put anyone in the real world on the road to success.
Politicians should stand for something, other than simply getting elected. But there also has to be room in politics, somewhere between unbending principle and opportunistic pandering. There has to be some place, and that place is Congress, where a satisfying compromise can be reached to achieve a greater good. And those who work towards it should not always have their conviction to principle questioned.
Political conviction can be defined in different ways and maybe it needs to be redefined in the context of today’s political realities. There is commitment to pure principle, no matter what the political cost. But there can also be commitment to honest compromise; and commitment to standing up to the extremes of one’s own political party. A politician who takes heat, draws lines, says to the ideological right or left, ‘‘no, that goes too far,’’ is showing courage and conviction, too.
It is dangerous to predict what happens next in Washington. It is unlikely we will see Democrats and Republicans holding hands and singing ‘‘Kumbayah’’ anytime soon; indeed, the sniping has already begun again over John Bolton’s nomination to the UN. But maybe the Senate compromise broke a logjam beyond the matter of judicial nominees.
Maybe there can be movement and resolution on such hot button issues as stem cell research and even Social Security reform. Maybe the compromise could influence the way the next presidential election is conducted.
For that to happen, the voters in the middle have to speak up and press the issue with their elected representatives: Is Congress going to spend the months ahead making sure nothing happens if it doesn’t satisfy the extremists? Or is it going to move forward on issues that matter a great deal?
Recent polls show Americans hold Congress in very low regard. That may explain why some in Congress, specifically those who want to keep their jobs, are more willing to work together. But it will take courage and persistence, in the face of extremists on both sides, who are ready to punish those who dare defy them.
The right is furious, for example, with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for finding a way, with other Senate moderates, to reach this compromise on judges. It is doing its best to goad Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist into hardliner reaction, by describing what McCain did to Frist as emasculation. The right is also chortling that McCain lost conservative support he will need for any future presidential run.
That is a real concern for a politician like McCain and shows the weakness in the presidential primary system for both parties. If independent-minded people of courage and conviction can’t win primaries because the ideological right or left has a lock on the primary system, then the system should be changed. The future lies in the middle, where the votes are, and smart politicians from both parties know it. It explains why McCain is walking away from the right and Democrats like Senator Hillary Clinton of New York are walking away from the left.
Maybe the new conviction test for politicians should be: Are you behind what is best for the broadest spectrum of Americans, rather than the narrowest? In doing so, are you angering the far right as well as the far left?
If so, cheers to you.