The Virtue of Principled Compromise: Brief Thoughts on the Debt Ceiling Crisis
What’s my perspective on the debit ceiling debate? If I may defer to Benjamin Franklin, as portrayed on HBO’s John Adams: “I’m an extreme moderate… I believe anyone not in favor of moderation and compromise ought to be castrated.” Now, please don’t misunderstand my meaning. I’m more of a “dual extremist” than I am “centrist.” After all, I voted for Obama and have already said that I’d probably vote for a competent Tea Party candidate next year–in my estimation, that excludes Palin or Bachmann–because they’re the only ones who are taking the debt issue as serious as necessary. My belief is that the Founding Fathers were extraordinarily wise. They quite intentionally established a form of government where it was painfully difficult to get anything done. They set up a system replete with checks and balances because they believed that with ease comes corruption. They understood that if one made the government simple then it’d quickly digress into authoritarianism. Thus, whereas most people see gridlock, corruption, and efficiency in our government, I see a complicated mess that’s working pretty much as it’s intended to. I keep hearing these jeremiads from those are either political polarity, and that itself gives me a measure of comfort. The system that everyone complains about and laments is, all things considered, actually functioning pretty darn well because the two sides bring balance to one another. This is perhaps most easily seen in a long-term, historical perspective. Notice the remarkable presidential parity since WWII: Truman (D), Eisenhower (R), Kennedy (D), Johnson (D), Nixon (R), Ford (R), Carter (D), Reagan (R), Bush (R), Clinton (D), Bush (R), Obama (D). That’s six apiece. As for the short-term, this debt ceiling crisis is the perfect example. Both sides are fighting tooth and nail, trying desperately to do what they think is best. That process tends to produce an overall moderating effect that seems to make sure neither ideological extreme goes too far. This I greatly value. Rather than seeing compromise as a dirty word, I see principled compromise as a virtue and a signifier of wisdom. Of course, all of this is contingent upon both sides actually compromising. If that breaks down we’re all pretty much hosed.