Why is ‘compromise’ a dirty word?

Is compromise possible? Since the writing of the Declaration of Independence to the drafting of the Constitution, compromise has always been something of a “dirty word.” 

Former President Ronald Reagan use to say, “If you got 75 or 80 percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later, and that's what I told these radical conservatives who never got used to it.”

We live in a political structure based on majority rule. If the majority party gains the votes necessary to pass legislation, then it becomes law. The party with the most seats in either chamber – Democrat or Republican -- gains control. The party in control has complete say over the calendar and what legislation is heard; however, votes are cast by lawmakers individually and can vote in favor or against any particular piece of legislation. Sometimes legislation is passed on the thinnest of margins like Social Security or the Affordable Care Act on the federal level.  Ironically in Pennsylvania, often times the toughest and closest votes have been those on the state budget.

Why is compromise hard?

Since the beginning of the 20th century, we have experienced the rise of the political campaign. And even that has undergone a radical and expensive shift. Just in Pennsylvania, state Senate and House races once needing little money are now costing millions of dollars.

Welcome to the age coined by political scientists as “the permanent campaign.”

With the rise of pollsters, the need for money and the constant news cycle, coupled with social media and anyone with a camera phone, politicians are on guard and under constant scrutiny, 24 hours a day. Thirty years ago a pay raise or a tax increase was a story for a week; now television specials mark the 10th anniversary of a pay raise.

Why is this significant? Most would argue that politicians should be scrutinized and held accountable. Some say yes while others disagree.

It is hard to make a tough vote when it could be your last. Is it good and productive government when an elected official is always looking over his shoulder, worried about re-election and what may show up as a new topic in social media.

As is often the case, a vote for compromise is one of the most difficult because many times when politicians compromise, the perception is weakness. When President George H. W. Bush compromised against his no new tax pledge, that was seen as weakness, and he lost a second term in the White House. 

If compromise really matters, then we should allow our leaders the opportunity and the flexibility to make the best decision given the circumstances, even if that means they might have to change a previously held position.

In the end, the voter still has the final say, simply by casting their ballot on Election Day.