It’s a complaint we hear constantly from both ends of the political spectrum: we want to elect people who will “stick to their principles.” We’re tired of the DINOs and RINOs willing to negotiate with the political “enemy,” look for areas of agreement and–most scandalous of all–settle for results that are less than 100% of what “our” side demands.
Look, I get wanting principal. No one wants an elected official without a spine, or worse, a lawmaker willing to “sell out” her true beliefs to placate a big donor, avoid a primary challenge or cave to pressure from a bigoted segment of the party base.
The problem is, not every compromise is a deviation from principle.
There’s a big difference between ideological rigidity and acting in accordance with principle. It’s a difference that’s invisible to the zealots who see every issue as black and white, every encounter with reality and its inevitable complexities, and every effort to find workable accommodations, a betrayal.
Americans used to understand that it’s better to get half of what you want than none at all. We used to understand that legislation is complicated, and not every description of a bill provided in hysterical internet “alerts” by advocacy groups tells the whole story. We used to recognize that legislation goes through a lengthy process, and that what might have begun as a step in the right direction might no longer be supportable, even by those who agree with the original intent.
Americans used to understand that issues are complicated, and that we are not well-served by people who refuse to admit or understand that.
And we used to understand that a willingness to blow up Congress and shut down the government in order to get what you want (yes, Ted Cruz, I’m looking at you), or a willingness to cause continuing harm to thousands of people by holding up water system repairs in Flint, Michigan because you don’t believe the federal government should be in the business of providing aid to states (yes, Mike Lee, I’m looking at you) is evidence of grandiosity and disregard for the consequences, not principle.
Effective governance and strategic negotiation aren’t as exciting as grandstanding and moralizing, but we used to understand that we are better served by the former than the latter.