Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It takes two to ... compromise

With Congress gridlocked over the debt situation, Minnesota's state government officially shutdown, the NFL locked out, and a similar impasse looming for the NBA, I find myself wondering what happened to the American ability to compromise.

The United States of America is home to a great diversity of peoples and opinions, which is why we have been so far successful with a government predicated on compromise. However, with today's polarized politics it is becoming more and more difficult to reach a middle ground on important issues.

On each side of the aisle politicians have demonized the opposition and committed themselves to untennable positions. If Republicans invariably oppose any increase in taxes and Democrats prohibit cuts from any program it is difficult to solve our collective problems. Both sides need to make reasonable concessions to get things done, but when options are taken off the table this becomes almost impossible.

In the particular case of Minnesota's shutdown, Governor Dayton's proposal to increase the income tax for the top 5% of earners in Minnesota. Dayton and Democrats in the legislature have made concessions, but Republicans refuse to budge on this issue and now the Minnesota state government has shutdown and many Minnesotans are feeling the effects.

I think that the majority of Americans realize the need for compromise and want the elected officials who represent them to make a greater effort to compromise. I don't think politicians believe this is the case; politicians refuse to compromise in the hopes of winning and retaining votes from their party base.

I also believe the ability to compromise is still within us. I've seen it demonstrated while working as a counselor at Minnesota Boy's State. I also want to believe it is still there for the sake of our country.

I think the solution lies in the people letting their representatives know that they approve of needed efforts to compromise and, as Minnesota's State Representative Matt Entenza advocated, punish uncompromising legislators at the polls -regardless of their party.

This problem didn't just arise out of nothing, our culture and politics have been moving in this direction for some time.

That movement is the subject of a lecture that NYT columnist David Brooks gave at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few days ago. The lecture is titled The Modesty Manifesto and I recommend both listening and taking some time to think about it.

I hope our modern society can move a little more toward a balance between narcissism and self-effacement in order that our politics also become more balanced.

We showed our national pride just the other day, now let's show our national humility and make the effort to compromise for the greater good.