In the recent wake of more mass shootings, we once again are met with the mostly ineffectual “thoughts and prayers” of politicians. The rhetoric is the same we have heard in the past, and we have come to know that the current state of politics in America will yield nothing that will actually help prevent the next such massacre. But is that really all that can be done?
In the Spring 2013 issue of the journal Daedalus, Amy Gutmann (current U.S. Ambassador to Germany) and Dennis F. Thompson published an article entitled “Valuing Compromise for the Common Good.” Therein, Gutmann and Thompson wrote:
“Pursuing the common good in a pluralist democracy is not possible without making compromises. Yet the spirit of compromise is in short supply in contemporary American politics. [. . .] To begin to make compromise more feasible and the common good more attainable, we need to appreciate the distinctive value of compromise [. . .]. A common mistake is to assume that compromise requires finding the common ground on which all can agree. That undermines more realistic efforts to seek classic compromises, in which each party gains by sacrificing something valuable to the other, and together they serve the common good by improving upon the status quo. Institutional reforms are desirable, but they, too, cannot get off the ground without the support of leaders and citizens who learn how and when to adopt a compromising mindset.”
The issues today that keep America in a constant inflamed state will never be resolved by the way politics are currently conducted in America. Both parties are fighting only for all out victory on every issue. Indeed, to talk compromise on the campaign trail ensures defeat in one’s party primary. This is despite the fact that, in a country split roughly evenly Democrat/Republican, such complete victory is an impossible goal. This reality has been acknowledged by non-compromiser Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, (R-Ga.) who several times has said that “Perhaps it is time to think about a national divorce.” If nothing changes in how we resolve issues, she is probably correct that we are heading down that regrettable path. It is not an overstatement to say that our current national disdain for compromise is making it impossible to move forward as a country.
It is time in America for a grand bargain. And as Gutmann and Thompson recognize, the compromise we need is not the “common ground” type. We must achieve a deal that renders each party both a winner and a loser. Such an approach has a much better chance of resolving difficult issues and stabilizing our country than the current ineffectual methods of today’s politicians. A grand bargain will allow the United States to move forward on issues that now seem intractable, and it will provide a blueprint for how to deal with issues in the future that have the possibility of returning us to the paralysis caused by our current hyper-partisanship.
So, what would such a grand bargain look like? I do not pretend to have the precise deal in mind or a list of all the issues that could be included in such a negotiation. But, two issues that currently seem intractable are illustrative of what can potentially be accomplished. Towards that end, I have recently been asking both my Republican and my Democratic friends (yes, I have many of both) to imagine a U.S. Senate race with three choices: a candidate who wants a wall built along our the southern border and will not vote for any gun law reform; a candidate adamantly opposed to a border wall and favors gun control laws; or a candidate willing to build a border wall in exchange for a ban on assault rifles and universal background checks for gun purchasers. In my little non-scientific parlor game, nearly all Republicans and Democrats swallow hard and vote for “candidate three.” And so do I. This is the type of compromise Gutmann and Thompson prescribe and that America needs in order to begin to climb out of the political morass we find ourselves in. If we don’t, we will forever continue to add to the list that reads Louisville, Nashville, Uvalde, Buffalo, Shady Hook, Columbine and on and on and on.
Joe Bollettieri, is an attorney and writer in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.