PAUL ERICSON: Why Has Compromise Become a Dirty Word?
Republican gamesmanship is undermining the government's ability to address the people's needs.
Both sides agree that the health-care system is in need of repair. Opinion polls document continued strong public support for meaningful change in health care, to include more widespread coverage and coverage for pre-existing conditions.
The American political system, by conscious design, precludes unrestrained lawmaking by the majority party. It instead requires those on both sides of the aisle to work together for the national well-being. Political compromise is an essential corollary to our constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers.
The Founding Fathers led by example. Views on the role of a central government could not have been more divergent nor regional suspicions more salient when the Constitution was drafted.
We have a Constitution because the drafters were willing to make fundamental compromises on a series of issues -- power sharing, interstate commerce and slavery -- and the citizens felt that their representatives, in making these compromises, had their interests at heart.
Throughout our history, compromise has allowed for meaningful legislation by ensuring the incorporation of legitimate albeit divergent political views. The subsequent bipartisan "seal of approval" legitimized the legislation in the eyes of the electorate.
Willingness to work across the aisle was a respected political trait. Sen. Everett Dirksen will always be remembered for his work as minority leader with the majority leader Sen. Mike Mansfield to pass meaningful civil rights legislation.
Over the past 15 years, compromise has become a dirty word.
Partisan-inspired gridlock is relatively harmless when things are going well. Bipartisanship becomes critical, however, when the government seeks to address core concerns such as economic well-being, health care and energy.
We currently live in a world of unrequited attempts at compromise. To the consternation of his party's faithful, President Obama pushed for the inclusion of Republican agendas -- tax cuts versus government spending -- in the economic stimulus package. Nonetheless, the package did not receive a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives.
Republican ideas have been incorporated in current health-care legislation. In his speech on health care to a joint session of Congress, the president offered to incorporate Sen. John McCain's plans for catastrophic coverage and to entertain tort-reform legislation, a key plank of the Republican Party.
The opportunity for conservatives to take a meaningful role in shaping critical legislation could not have been more blatant. Many moderates, me included, would have welcomed some of the provisions that have been advanced by Republicans.
The Republican response has been disappointing, to say the least. Republicans would rather defeat the Democratic administration than provide -- by working together on a compromise bill -- their stamp of approval to a meaningful overhaul of a health-care system in dire need of repair.
Americans are shortchanged by an approach that confuses the means and ends of governance. The purpose of being elected is to deal with the challenges facing the nation by crafting legislation that reflects the needs and philosophical leanings across the spectrum of American society.
The Republican response to President Obama's overtures has been to stand on the sidelines and carp. This approach exacerbates public confusion and heightens public concern regarding the appropriate government role in a very critical area. It undermines effective governance. If Republican stonewalling leads to success at the polls, their victory will be, at best, Phyrric.
Americans deserve better from their elected officials.
Paul Ericson, a teacher at Pinecrest High School, lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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