Unless you have been sequestered for an O.J. level criminal trial for the last few years, you have probably heard that people in our country are fed-up with Washington D.C., and, ultimately, the politicians we put there. While there are a multitude of individual reasons why this has happened, there is one, overarching fault that seems to be at the heart of the seething distaste for all the bureaucratic chicanery that seems to be synonymous with government these days. Compromise has become taboo, and negotiating and the art of making is now just as derided as a pair of anti-vaxxer parent who use maple syrup as a cure for meningitis. Mmmmm. More vaccine please, mom.
"Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable - the art of the next best." When Otto von Bismarck said this in 1867, he realized that being a politician was less about getting what you wanted and more about wanting what you got. Realpolitik was a political philosophy based on pragmatism, and it was a large part of Bismarck's mindset when he made that most famous utterance. You don't need to take the word of a long-dead Prussian statesman, though, to understand how politics work. It really just comes down to plain and simple common sense. In politics and life in general, getting everything you want is impossible, and you often have to compromise if you want to walk away with anything at all. Unfortunately, those we have sent to Washington to represent our interests have not only forgotten this in recent years, but have taken their successful election to mean that constituents would rather have the government shut down than give one inch of ground. The only other people who act like that wear diapers or have the last name Kardashian. Or both.
You may wonder how this abandonment of responsibility is being justified. Well, politicians on both sides use the same excuse when they dig in their heels - that the core beliefs their party was built on are at stake, and it would be impossible to compromise these long-held tenants. Now, saying deliberate and forceful things like "core beliefs," and "long-held tenants" make for great sound bytes when said with authority, and, at first, it makes people want to say "yeah, right on! You tell those stupid democrats/republicans!" Unfortunately, just like almost everything else politicians say today, it requires a pretty liberal definition of "the truth" to be considered what we generally regard as fact, and by pretty liberal I mean the opposite. Here's a bombshell - the political parties you know today are not the same parties that they were 150 years ago, and they aren't even the same parties your grandfather (and possibly grandmother) voted for.
Political party platforms and names are always changing and evolving. It may surprise you to know that until 1824, there were no Democrats and no Republicans - there were only the Democratic-republicans. That went on for about fifty years, and then there was a split, and the seeds of today's two-party system were planted. Yup, both Democrats and Republicans came from the same party. When the Federalist party died out in 1820, the Democratic-Repubublican party became the grandfather of all parties from that period on. Talk about a mutual background! All politicians today share a common ancestor, unfortunately, when you watch them it's much more likely you'd think that political first cousins married. For three generations. In Chernobyl.
Like any ancestor's line, the sides of the family have grown apart and matured individually as the years went on. When the Democratic and Republican parties separated, they evolved and the platforms they have run on have varied wildly. They even completely switched sides, at least once. Party members throughout the history of our country realized that the good of the United States demanded change, and they made compromises to effect that change. Since 1776, American political platforms have had more flip-flops than a Hawaiian Surf Shop. So, when the politicians of today claim they are duty-bound to uphold the beliefs of the party they represent, you can go ahead and call B.S. on that.
If you need a more specific example, look to the revered Founding Fathers. They made more compromises then an out of work actor to get the Constitution written and signed. When they reached an impasse, compromise was their go-to move, their old-standby - the "missionary position" of early American politics. In fact, there's even a famous one - does the phrase "Connecticut Compromise" ring a bell? If not, then you probably should have spent less time feeding your Tamagotchi and more time watching filmstrips.
1812 was a heady time in America when The War Of said year was raging, and calling someone "The Great Compromiser" wasn't a horrendously insulting slur. It was a compliment, and it was paid to Henry Clay - a representative, a senator, the Secretary of State, and someone who also argued cases in front of the Supreme Court. His ability to compromise helped hold off the civil war for another 40 years. That certainly doesn't sound like someone who was a failure in history's eyes. I'd be grateful to do even one of those things, but I'd almost certainly become a shill for big sugar. Or big Splenda (watching my figure).
So, now that you know that our country, the constitution, the two-party-system, the Civil War, and pretty much every major bill passed was based on some sort of compromise, does it change your opinion of that fiery rhetoric the candidates are spouting about "waffling," and "flip-flopping?" Being able to negotiate to get some of what you want is one of the cornerstones of the American political system, which, let's face it, hasn't worked well in years. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying any one party is at fault. Both sides refuse to work with the other, and in my book that's clearly dereliction of duty. If both parties entrench themselves and threaten to take their ball and go home, all that does is leave the American People with a government that has no balls.
Somewhere along the line in the last decade or so, our representatives got it into their heads that serving the American populace means spouting taglines and recording sound bytes while sternly waggling their finger at the other side. It takes up so much time, though, that no one is governing any longer. Like him or not, a majority of the American people decided we would be best served by keeping President Obama at the helm. So, republicans refuse to work with him, and then he refuses to work with republicans, and then the democrats refuse to work with the republicans, and then the catfish - well, you get the idea. All we end with is more refusals than a novelist trying to publish "The Lighter Side of Al Qaeda - Beards & Bird Watching," and certainly less written.
Compromise, changing someone's mind, and the art of making a deal are part and parcel of American governance, and vilifying someone who does it is the same as coming out against our current republic system of government. I decided to pen this piece after my wife became fed up with me shouting at the television "that's what they are supposed to be doing" every time some politician claimed his rival was "compromising and making deals with the other side." It's time for you to get angry, too, and tell your politicians that compromising is what makes this country great.