Last week, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine announced her intentions to leave the Senate due to her frustration with the ongoing political gridlock in Washington. She was a member of a dying breed: a moderate willing to side with the opposing political party in order to reach a compromise that would best serve the interests of the American people. Ultimately, she was unwilling to tolerate the lack of compromise any longer.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post following her announcement, she wrote, “our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets. That reward will be real only if the people demonstrate their desire for politicians to come together after the planks in their respective party platforms do not prevail.” It’s wise for us to take this message to heart during the 2012 campaign and beyond.
A CBS/New York Times poll conducted in January found that 85 percent of Americans wanted to see Democrats and Republicans get things done, even if that meant compromising some of their positions. However, Snowe’s parting words are likely to fall on deaf ears in Washington. Most politicians in Washington probably aren’t going to end the gridlock soon. But eventually, the current members of Congress will leave, and those vacancies will be filled by members of our generation.
We must be the generation that embraces consensus and compromise even if it comes with personal costs. The real battle for the soul of American political discourse will not be fought today, tomorrow or next year. It will be fought on our terms, and we will win.
How will we win this battle? In his 2010 Yale Class Day speech, former President Bill Clinton gave us a hint when he said, “I force myself to listen to people who disagree with me.” This is not an earth-shattering revelation, but honestly, how often do we actively search for perspectives that contradict our own for purposes other than mocking or denouncing the other point of view? For most of us, it’s not very often.
All of us should be able to find at least one political position that opposes our own and be able to agree with it. These areas of agreement can be difficult to pinpoint while we’re distracted by the rhetoric of pundits, politicians and protesters. We won’t resolve the fundamental differences in our political ideologies in the near future, but in the meantime, if we focus on finding solutions to the issues on which everyone can agree, we can make important progress to improve the lives of many Americans.
Of course, this isn’t the only step that must be taken to end the gridlock in Washington. But we have to start somewhere, and the best way to solve an enormous problem is to fix small, manageable chunks of the problem. Most of us won’t become politicians, but even as private citizens, we can realize Snowe’s vision. Our generation can clearly demonstrate that we want politicians to come together if we get in the habit of finding areas of agreement while we’re still young.
We must have the courage to compromise even at the expense of our own personal interests, in order to best serve the interests of everyone. Compromise is manageable, it’s part of our history and it’s what the Founding Fathers intended. So let’s get started.
Michael Spaeth is an LSA freshman.