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Is there room for political compromise in an era of permanent campaigning?

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Campaigning vs. governing

Compromise requires a shift from the postures of campaigning to the positions of governing. The president’s critics miss the depth of the problem when they focus on how the specific gains and concessions in the proposed compromise match their campaign platforms. They are still in campaign mode, operating with a mindset that is perfectly appropriate for running for office, but counterproductive for running a government.

This uncompromising mindset stands tenaciously on principle and mistrusts opponents. In that frame of mind, you can always believe that your side could have won more if only you had pressed harder or the other side had been more reasonable. When the uncompromising mindset prevails, desirable legislation founders.

The mindset that promotes compromise – which favors adapting one’s principles and respecting one’s opponents– used to be more robust than it is today. The most comprehensive tax reform legislation in modern American history, the Tax Reform Act of 1986, was forged with the support of a bipartisan group that included President Ronald Reagan, Democrats Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Bradley, and Republican Bob Packwood. They were partisans – by no means oblivious to electoral pressures, but prepared to take responsibility for governing, and adopt the attitudes required to fulfill it.

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