As anybody who has a spouse or other companion understands, the art of compromise is one of the essential ingredients of a successful relationship. Without compromise, it is difficult to achieve anything.
It is possible this principle is being illustrated as you read this. Perhaps that familiar-looking man/woman staring at you over breakfast with the disgusted expression wants the section of the paper you are now reading.
If you are in a good mood, you may promise to hand it over as soon as you read this column — and what a wonderful person you are for having such good taste. But if you are chronically peevish, you will refuse on a matter of high principle — i.e., it is rude to interrupt someone under the influence of bagels, and he/she can darn well wait until the cows come home and moo to you, buddy.
That is where we are now with the most dysfunctional marriage in the land, that of the two parties in Congress. Neither party has a monopoly on virtue. In fact, when it comes to virtue, Miss Trixie’s House of Fun and Frolic has a better claim. My main concern is not who are the bigger jerks, but what is to become of the fading art of compromise.
The Irish-born, British orator and statesman Edmund Burke, who sympathized with the American revolution, had wise words in the 18th century that should resonate with Americans at this irritable hour: “All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter.”
Ah yes, compromise. It is the little retreat necessary to help secure life’s bigger victories. It is the fluid in civilization’s gears. It is the very soul and definition of politics.
Or was. Unfortunately, compromise is now in chronically short supply. Where once it was common in the halls of Congress and on friendly roosts at other levels of government, compromise has been hunted to near extinction by the cynics and powermongers.
If you need chapter and verse on this phenomenon, the health care overhaul effort would be a good place to start, but it seems there’s almost nothing the two parties can agree on. If these guys died and went to heaven — an unlikely event, I grant you — they would argue with each other eternally about dividing up the halos and who should play the harp.
As for America’s problems, we have more of them than Capitol Hill has lobbyists. Don’t tell me that certain ideological purists can’t compromise because they have their principles. We all have our principles, I have my principles (no warm beer). Principles are very important.
There’s always a time and place for the famous cry of Patrick Henry (no relation): “Give me liberty or give me death!” But most of us are looking for something workable in the middle range. We are hoping that sensible compromise, the agent of every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, will still be there to make our country great.
Reg Henry’s columns are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News service.