Monday, August 4, 2008

Presidential Elections and the Art of Compromise

In one of the ironies of US politics, voters prefer for partisans to work together to find workable solutions to problems, but they punish candidates who express, or have shown, a willingness to compromise. For example, George H. W. Bush made a promise during the 1988 election, "read my lips, no new taxes." He later signed a bill that raised taxes. Not because he wanted to raise taxes. Instead, he thought that tax increases were an acceptable compromise to get other items in the bill that he wanted, namely, restrictions on spending. Did voters reward Bush for his bipartisanship? Just the opposite. In his 1992 race for reelection one of the biggest criticisms was that he didn't "keep his word."

More recently, both major party candidates have expressed a willingness to compromise on an issue in order to find a workable solution. In both cases, members of the press and the opposing campaign have suggested that the candidate was a "flip-flopper" or was not standing by their principles.

For McCain, the issue was the social security crisis. McCain is opposed to tax increases, but in a recent interview said that he would accept an increase in the cap on the payroll tax as part of a compromise bill. This means that, even though he is personally not in favor of increasing the cap, he would sign a bill that included this provision, if it contained other solutions to the social security crisis that he favors, such as personal accounts.

For Obama, the issue was the energy crisis. Obama is opposed to offshore drilling. His proposed solutions include developing more wind and solar power and conservation. But, he has said that he would accept more offshore drilling as part of a compromise bill. So if a bill that includes his proposed solutions also increases offshore drilling he would, apparently, sign it.

Our next president, even more that our current one, will be faced with both crises in energy and social security. If the two parties do not work together on these solutions, with each side accepting some compromise, nothing will get accomplished.

So, will voters be able to tell the difference between a candidate's principles and what they are willing to accept as part of a compromise? Or, will they force these candidates to take such hard-nosed positions that they will be too hogtied to accept a compromise bill, fearing the same backlash endured by the first President Bush?


Stephen Maynard Caliendo said...

These are excellent points.

Besides the political realities of compromise, however, is the lack of respect (and, in fact, outright disdain) for intellectualism and any gray area involved in salient policy areas. The current administration has risen false dichotomy to an art form ("You're with us or you're with the terrorists."). Inability to differentiate between explanation and excuses (as in the real reasons for the 9/11 attacks -- not those insulting to our intelligence such as "they hate our freedom") has contributed to this problem, as well.

With respect to campaign promises such as "read my lips," the problem is not changing one's mind; the problem is the initial election-year promises that belie the reality of the necessity of political compromise.

Some of the blame resides squarely with us -- the voters; we should know better.

eric said...

Flip flopping is such a bad term. I wish more politicians stood up for their flip-flops and said that they realized they said one thing, but the situation changed or their information on the topic changed and thus their position on X changed.

I seem to remember on the PBS documentary on Geo. HW Bush some historians praising him for his raising taxes because it was necessary (for what I don't remember). Instead of being hard headed he said that this was something he had to do. And, they gave him credit, rightly or wrongly, for helping the economic boom of the Clinton years.

suzanhayward said...

I agree with Eric; decisions change in our personal lives daily based on daily input. In politics, situations change which concurrently could make Presidential convictions change. That being said, however, concurrent decisions should have similarities to campaign promises!

Tracy said...

For me the bottom line is in semantics. "No Tax Increases" No Offshore Drilling. No this, No that - Absolutes that leave no room for compromise need to be stated differently. Simply, 'Our goal to minimize off shore drilling" etc.
Most functioning, intelligent adults realize that compromise is necessary, and we also know when we hear a promise that will be impossible to keep. This is why more US citizens need to know & understand the platform of each politician.

Mrs. N. said...

Excellent article. I agree with with many of the points made in the comment section as well. And like Tracy wrote, it is often the absolute statements that get them in trouble in the first place.