The U.S. Congress functions properly, productively and in the national interest only when there is a willingness to cooperate and, if necessary, compromise — even where different views and goals exist. Purity is not policy. It is posturing. Legislative argument is not between Holy Writ and wholly wrong.
Among the most cherished legislative accomplishments of our time — civil-rights legislation where regional differences and history made it hard; arms control and disarmament policies that intensely divided hawks and doves who were battlefields apart; labor legislation where haves and have-nots marched to different drummers; health, medical and retirement programs that reached too far for some and not far enough for others — came to be because serious and decent opponents sought common ground.
Ample precedent exists to support this notion of honorable and hard-fought compromise. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 would have deadlocked and probably failed without it. Except for the “Great Compromise of 1787” that balanced the interests of small states by creating the Senate with the interests of large states by creating the House of Representatives, national doom was almost inevitable.
And our nation’s greatest failure to find a sustainable compromise between manufacturing interests of the Northern states and the agricultural interests of the South, along with the issue of slavery, led the United States inexorably to the Civil War, during which more than 650,000 Americans died needlessly.
We are not on the verge of another civil war, but deadlock and inaction born of self-righteousness does immense harm to our people and our nation. Our democratic system is diminished by those who are certain they know the right and only way. Partisan rigidity turns our American dream into a nightmare.
It is time for us all, whatever our interests and beliefs, to sign a Declaration of Interdependence. It is time for the national interest to be served through honorable and hard-fought compromise in the manner of our founding fathers. Each of us should tell these truths, which are self-evident, to our senators and representatives.
Norman Sherman and John Stewart served, respectively, as Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary and chief legislative aide.