‘Common Ground’ Is No Substitute For Compromise
A few weeks ago, Speaker Boehner announced that the goal of the Republicans on the supercommittee was to “find common ground” rather than to compromise-
‘My message to you today is simple: faith in government has never been high, but it doesn’t have to be this low,’ Boehner said, according to his prepared remarks. ‘The American people need to see that despite our differences, we can get things done. We can start by recognizing that ‘common ground’ and ‘compromise’ are not the same thing.’
The co-chairs of the ‘supercommittee,’ Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ‘couldn’t be more different ideologically, and neither are going to compromise on their principles,’ Boehner added. ‘But I believe they share a commitment to finding solutions — finding those ‘areas of overlap’ between the parties, and getting them done,’ he said.
As we bid a fond adieu to the supercommittee (that was anything but), there is an unpleasant lesson to be learned: in a republic with only two parties representing competing interests, you can’t effectively substitute “common ground” for compromise. That’s hardly surprising; if the deficit problem could be solved just by agreeing on moot points, it would have been laid to rest long ago, with no frustration experienced by either side. On the other hand, a willingness to compromise involves recognizing that one’s own principles are not the only ones relevant to settling a policy dispute.
Putting aside political principles for the moment, Freud observed some time ago that infants are ruled by the pleasure principle: the slightest dissatisfaction is perceived by them as absolutely intolerable pain. Psychologically healthy adults, by contrast, are governed by the reality principle: they realize that in a world inhabited by people other than oneself, one’s own desires - including the political principles one wishes to live by - sometimes cannot be fully satisfied. At those times, compromise is often the wisest course, despite the frustration it usually entails.
While the whole story has yet to unfold, my guess is that at least a few Democrats on the supercommittee were willing to compromise, while the Republicans - as a “matter of principle” - were not, just as Boehner indicates above. A solution, it appears, must await the arrival of more adults.