But the problems with this view run deeper. A belief that compromise is always favorable to liberalism is historically ill-informed. Ronald Reagan's 1986 tax reform and Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reform were the results of bipartisan compromise. So were Clinton's four budgets that kept federal spending under 20 percent of GDP. And addressing the long-term debt crisis — really a health entitlement crisis — will not be possible without a series of difficult political compromises on benefit restructuring and revenues.
It is a revealing irony that the harshest critics of compromise should call themselves constitutional conservatives. The Constitution itself resulted from an extraordinary series of compromises. And it created the system of government that presupposes the same spirit. "Compromise," says Rauch, "is the most essential principle of our constitutional system. Those who hammer out painful deals perform the hardest and, often, highest work of politics; they deserve, in general, respect for their willingness to constructively advance their ideals, not condemnation for treachery."
But such condemnation, it seems, is an easier path to attention.
Michael Gerson's email address is email@example.com.
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