We once had a proud tradition of finding compromise even against impossible odds.
Henry Clay was known as the Great Compromiser, a name he wore with pride and distinction. However, what many do not know was that he almost didn’t get that name. Originally, newspapers wanted to give that alias to John C. Calhoun. A fight nearly broke out until Henry Clay said, “Wait, hold on. You can call Mr. Calhoun the Great Compromiser and call me the Great Ameliorator.” Of course, after this rousing speech everyone knew who the Great Compromiser truly was.
That story is, of course, complete bunk. But it does illustrate the importance of compromise especially in the lower chamber of Congress. From the founding of our great nation to the end of the Cold War, compromise has been the engine of our democracy.
Perhaps the strongest presidential leader of all-time was Ronald Reagan. He brought America back from one of the greatest economic downturns our country had faced and ended up presiding over one of the longest terms of strong economic growth. He also helped to bring an end to the Cold War. He did not do this alone, he did this through principled compromise with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and through intense negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev. In fact, from our founding, we have a long and proud tradition of finding consensus.
After the revolution the United States were not particularly united. The thirteen states could barely agree on anything and never truly thought of themselves as one whole country (this would last well into the next century). One of the first things that the House had to take care of was the assumption of debts and the placement of the National capital.
The Northern states were eager to have the national government take care of their debts while the southern states had already paid off their own debts. Naturally, the southern states would be damned before they would lighten the burden of those dead beat northerners. Yet, after careful negotiations and a few dinners they ended up agreeing to help the Northerners pay off their debts. How did this happen?
What would become the Compromise of 1790 was the brain child of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson (in case you’re wondering I have never seen the musical Hamilton and, quite frankly, I’m a little sick of it). Jefferson was a staunch supporter of states’ rights and keeping the Federal government as small as possible – that is until he got the opportunity to double the size of our country through the Louisiana Purchase, but that’s not important right now. Hamilton was a strong supporter of a strong federal government. It was terribly difficult for them to see eye to eye.
Eventually, with the help of Virginia representative James Madison they were able to hammer out an agreement in which the southern states agreed to help assume the Northerners debts in exchange for the Northern states agreeing
to move the capital a bit further south near Maryland and Virginia near the Potomac River. And that is why we have Washington, D.C .
So here we have a capital built on compromise, built for compromise and built by compromise. Yet, for some reason no compromises can be made there. Why is this so? Do we just have to resign ourselves to constant gridlock? Imagine if the first representatives in the House had refused to come to an agreement because they were afraid of offending their base. Or because they were afraid of a brutal primary fight? If this were the case in 1790 we would not have a country. We would be a loose collection of city-states constantly at war (real war) with one another like Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
We may or may not be looking forward to another four years of pointless government gridlock. Immediately after the election some disappointed liberal groups were protesting with “Not My President”. This is precisely what many within the opposing party establishment did when Barack Obama was president. They did this to the point where they rejected Obama’s job bill which was designed to strengthen our failing infrastructure.
The art of politics is the art of finding a good deal. We’ve allowed our politics to devolve into an us or them proposition and to stop a bill or to filibuster makes us feel like our side is winning. For some reason we are under the impression that the White House is a trophy, a trophy that our side needs to win every four years. Once our side wins this trophy then it is up to us to keep it, and for the party that has not won this trophy, it is up to them to ensure that the other party loses in the next election.
This is as insane as it is childish.
We need a congress that takes action. We need a congress that can look into our current regulations and figure out which ones are killing jobs unnecessarily. We need a congress that can find principled consensus. We may not make everyone happy but, at the very least, benefits us to a certain degree. The US House of Representatives should become the Great Ameliorator.