Inquirer Editorial: Compromise isn't a bad word

A U.S. park ranger carries a barricade last week on Independence Mall.
A U.S. park ranger carries a barricade last week on Independence Mall. (MATT ROURKE / AP)
Posted: October 09, 2013

Having survived the Civil War, this country should know better than to treat the latest government shutdown as the political equivalent of the Bible's depiction of Earth's last days.

The American political system may be stalled, but it isn't time for a mercy shot to put it out of its misery. Rather, the mess in Washington should motivate people to use the best means they have to push their government out of its funk: going to the polls and voting.

There's a caveat to that prescription, however. If voters do no more than pull the lever for a label, instead of a person, they will continue to elect politicians who don't recognize the word compromise as part of the English language - politicians who think it's treason to part from their faction for any reason.

Government can't function without compromise. That point was reiterated recently by a number of essayists commenting on the political theories of the noted Yale professor Juan Linz, who died last week. Linz believed political systems with strong presidencies are doomed to fail. He preferred parliamentary systems, with prime ministers who are forced to form coalitions to govern.

Linz wrote a two-volume book on the subject, The Failure of Presidential Democracy, in which he used Latin American presidencies as examples of flawed governments. He maintained that when a president and a congress are elected by separate constituencies, it's difficult for them to rule together.

That type of difficulty is what this country seems to be experiencing now. While President Obama touts his reelection as a mandate to implement the Affordable Care Act, a minority of House Republicans argues that their collective election was a mandate to destroy the law. Unable to agree, they missed a deadline to fund many government functions.

That failure won't be final. Even as Americans sigh in despair every day that the shutdown continues, most expect the impasse to end eventually. The evidence is in the 237 years their government has endured, even through the aforementioned Civil War. People are losing patience, though, for a remedy to begin to work its magic.

The remedy is for more of the people elected to Congress to make informed decisions about the best course for this country, to unshackle themselves from groupthink politics, and to stop being afraid to compromise. That's harder to do these days, with so many legislative districts carved so as to discourage diversity, including diverse points of view. But it isn't impossible.

The remedy is stronger leadership to reach the compromises that Washington has evaded for too long. Even as the fight linking the government shutdown to Obamacare may be nearing a resolution, other lines have been drawn over increasing the nation's borrowing limit. Once again, there's too little talk of compromise among lawmakers. Maybe they're waiting for a prime minister.

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