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Vail Daily column: Don’t strangle compromise

Jack Van Ens

James Madison believed congressional leaders’ most significant trip forced them to meet each other halfway. The Constitution’s architect framed the founding document so that mutual concessions resolved political debate. Former President Bill Clinton sounded Madisonian when he recently said, “If you read the Constitution, it ought to be subtitled, ‘Let’s make a deal.’”

In contrast, Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz (R-Texas) rejects going down the road of compromise. He tells congressional leaders to take a hike if they dare bend principles around public policy that works for both sides of the aisle. Cruz rarely stops at verbal yellow lights, which signal to proceed with caution. He acts as if he seldom needs to stop haranguing or listen to opponents and catch up with new insights. He sounds like Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) did in the 1970s, barring fresh views from disturbing their pre-conceived notions.

Cruz’s curiosity has hardened into misplaced confidence that he’s always right. Is wisdom’s prize conferred on debunkers who verbally bully? Cynics don’t respect compromise. They use ideological purity as a battering ram against political adversaries.

Sen. Cruz suffers from blurred vision when he sees himself as Ronald Reagan’s protege. President Reagan acted more like Madison than he did Cruz, often using compromise to get legislation passed.

Henry Clay, a congressional legislative giant in the early 19th century, admired Madison. Clay honed the ability to “bring together seemingly irreconcilable factions through compromise. He became wedded to the idea that the key to political success was to promote the possible and avoid the unattainable ideal” (“Henry Clay: the Essential American,” Heidler and Heidler).

Madison tried changing politicians who wouldn’t compromise their principles. He constructed the Constitution so that it forced politicians to edit grandiose promises in stump speeches. Madison urged candidates at campaign stops to only promise what they could deliver, based on previously worked-out constitutional compromises.

Our Republic is constitutionally structured so that an ideological purist like Cruz cannot bully his way into power. The Constitution’s signers on Sept. 17, 1787, supported checks and balances, which allowed for competing power blocs. Jostling for a winning edge, one faction can’t arbitrarily force its will on another. Give-and-take must be in the mix to pass legislation.

In an essay “Rescuing Compromise,” Jonathan Rauch, writer for the National Affairs quarterly, declares: “Forcing (congressional) actors to bargain and collaborate slows precipitous change while constantly making negotiators adjust their positions. The requirement to bargain and find allies provides new ideas and entrants with paths into politics and ways to shake up the status quo. But that same requirement prevents upheaval by ensuring that no one actor can seize control, at least not for long.”

Ted Cruz sports Ivy League educational credentials, earning degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. His scholarly achievements brought him a Supreme Court clerkship. But he fails to grasp the adage: “Politics is the art of compromise.”

Princeton University classmate David Panton tells how Cruz idolized the 40th president, declaring his life’s goal to “become like Ronald Reagan — a principled conservative and great communicator.” Cruz acted on his obsession. Prior to his marriage, he invited his wedding party to picnic at Reagan’s ranch.

Cruz fabricates Reagan’s image as “the stick-to-your-guns political cowboy.” Reagan invited his opponents into the Oval Office, offering jelly beans to satisfy their political sweet tooth. When they stood firm, he’d invite them to the White House to play cards over drinks. The opposition joined Reagan in moving toward the political center. His ideological purity melted like a sucked-on jelly bean. The president sometimes shaved principles in exchange for pragmatic legislation that moved the nation forward.

Unlike Sen. Cruz, Reagan compromised. As California governor, he raised taxes. He increased the national debt as president. He rarely cussed out fellow Republicans in public, which Cruz does by making colleagues knuckle-under to Tea Party’s loyalty tests. Reagan and House Democrat leader Tip O’Neal didn’t see eye-to-eye, but they bantered over disagreements and respected each other’s convictions. In contrast, Cruz verbally pistol-whips political adversaries with a cynic’s scurrility.

John Adams’ temperament didn’t accept compromise. His blood boiled during debates against adversaries. Sounding crusty and curt, Adams lacked God’s charm for “being slow to anger” (Psalm 103:8). Despite a dogmatic voice and overbearing manner that Cruz emulates, Adams began realizing the value of compromise.

Serving in the 1776 Continental Congress, Adams tired of the tactic opponents used to bait political enemies. He desired a Republic that worked, where compromise was not replaced “by noise, not sense; by meanness, not greatness; by ignorance, not learning; by contracted hearts, not large souls.”

“There must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for persons of authority of every rank or we are undone,” Adams pleaded. “In a popular government, this is the only way.”

Ted Cruz lacks the good manners of compromise, which inspire opponents to meet each other half way.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.


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