Do citizens value compromise? Americans are ambivalent about it. That is the most striking pattern revealed in surveys of public opinion in recent years. The ambivalence shows itself in public attitudes toward politicians who compromise and also toward compromise itself. In a typical survey, the vast majority of Americans said they prefer leaders willing to compromise, but at the same time two-thirds of all the respondents also said that they “like politicians who stick to their positions, even if unpopular.”
Are these conflicted feelings about compromise to blame for Senator Lugar’s upset in Indiana?
Some news reports have suggested that Lugar’s openness to compromise may have played a factor in his stunning loss to challenger Richard Mourdock (“Mr. Mourdock’s campaign was fueled by Tea Party groups and national conservative organizations that deemed Mr. Lugar too willing to compromise…” writes the New York Times).
And Mourdock, for his part, is already trumping his unwillingness to compromise in places like The Hill:
Mourdock, who won in part on the strength of the Tea Party, also predicted there won’t be much compromise in the next Senate.
“I recognize that this is one of those times where there is great polarization between the two parties, and frankly the ideas for which the parties are working are really at opposite ends of the spectrum — I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of successful compromise,” Mourdock said on CNN’s “Starting Point” Wednesday.
“You never compromise on principles — if people on the far left have a principle they want to stand by, they should never compromise. Those of us on the right should not either,” he said.
Yet, history tells us that successful government requires compromise, so where does this leave us?
For a more circumspect take on the role of compromise in government, check out this exclusive excerpt at Salon.com from The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson.