To the editor
While reading a recently published biography, I was struck by stark differences between our society now and during the political life of Attorney General and FBI Director James A. Baker III during the 1980s through the early 1990s.
Thirty years ago, politicians were viewed as being successful if they got things done, especially when they got the things done that their constituents wanted. Compromise was usually the name of the game because political representation required it.
We seem to have lost the will to compromise. Baker and his contemporaries usually approached challenges, especially when he was Secretary of State, by trying to find the win-win solution. To Baker, it was not a zero-sum game; there didn’t have to be winners and losers. His objective was to find the solution where everyone got something they wanted and no one went home a loser.
We still see some of this, most notable recently with the brokering of the deal where Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates formally recognized Israel. Both sides got something they wanted, and a deal was reached. However, it has become increasingly rare for us to achieve win-win solutions domestically. It appears to be far more important for us to celebrate our victory over our political enemy rather than celebrate a compromise where everyone goes home with something that they want.
This “cut off your nose despite your face” approach to politics has led to a government shutdown, late budgets, lack of COVID-19 relief and a long list of other lost opportunities for our political leaders to actually lead and serve our country.
Party before country now seems to be the mantra, and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this. We seem to have forgotten that politics is “the art of the possible,” in the words of Otto van Bismark, mastermind of the unification of Germany and the new nation’s first chancellor from 1871 to 1890. Our country isn’t a perfect union, but through many, many compromises on the part of our founding fathers, we formed a government based on a compromise constitution that represents their efforts to form “a more perfect union.” Political compromise seeks to find the best possible solution. Today we see politicians demanding that they get their perfect solution while their opponents get defeated. This seems to be primarily because politicians are much more focused on campaigning for their next election rather than governing.
What will it take for us to learn that we are on the wrong path? How can we once again learn the art of compromising? While I was not a fan of the Reagan administration, I recognize that some people in that administration, none more notable than Jim Baker, understood the art of compromise. They worked toward what they thought was the best for the country first, not what was best for themselves and their party. We knew how to compromise and lead back then. What can we do now to get back to the point where our political leaders will govern and work for the country rather than for their party, and themselves?