Have our Elected Officials Forgotten why the Capitol is in Washington?

Earlier this year, Mitch McConnell (Senate Majority Leader) adopted a new alias: The Legislative “Grim Reaper” of the Senate, a reference to his refusal to work with Democrats on legislation that he does not fully support.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two fellow Senators vying for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination for President, have each spent nearly a half century on Capitol Hill, but on the campaign trail, the Senators routinely use words like “fighting” and “revolution” when asked how they will work to implement their ideas.  While it is true that they will not work with the half of the country that does not support their plan, but instead fight against them; these Senators speak of fighting and revolting because they see those who disagree with them as the enemy.

All three of these Senators’ actions make a mockery of the idea that the United States government works to solve problems in the best interest of its citizens, or even that it works at all. They have all gleefully taken their refusal to compromise as a source of pride; pride that under their rule nothing is done and no progress is made; pride that they are eroding faith in the United States government, both at home and abroad; and pride that they are willingly ignoring the virtues of the founding fathers.

Senators McConnell, Sanders, and Warren seem to have forgotten all about the founding fathers. They would be confused to learn that the reason that they are in Washington DC, the reason that it is the US Capitol, is because of a compromise between Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.

Anyone with a favorable view of any of these Senators might consider their absolute refusal to compromise to be a minor issue, or even to be virtuous; in fact, the founders of the United States set up the democracy with checks and balances in order to make impossible the radical, rapid change that they saw in authoritarian countries. To this, I respond that while the founders preferred a stable, slow democracy, they would not have endorsed such frequent government shutdowns nor the lack of bipartisan compromise (both hallmarks of recent times on Capitol Hill). If the founding fathers had not been willing to compromise with each other, the United States might not even have existed as we know it today. In order to ratify the Constitution and properly establish the nation, both Federalists and Anti-Federalists had to come to an amicable solution that satisfied both parties. This required compromise on the existence of Bill of Rights, the extent of states’ rights, the role of the federal government, whether to have one unified currency, the structure and makeup of Congress, and, yes, the location of the US capitol. These compromises meant that neither side was entirely satisfied, but the solution contained enough of their goals that they were able to move forward for the common good of the people. In a compromise, neither side gets exactly what they want, but a common ground solution is comprised of both parties’ ideas. In the way that the United States government is organized, compromise is the force that passes bills, moves progress, and gets things done. Mitch McConnell, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren seem to have forgotten this, or, perhaps more likely, they believe that the electorate has.

Of course, compromise has never been easy or perfect. In fact, it is far from it. One does not need to search through history books very far to find numerous examples of failed compromises. However, Winston Churchill’s famous saying about democracy, that “it is the worst form of Government except all those other forms,” is similarly true of compromise. Compromise is the worst form of enacting legislation except all those other forms. Compromises last because both parties are mostly happy and believe that there is enough in the bill to help their constituents.

To be clear, I am not criticizing Senators McConnell, Sanders, and Warren over their policy positions. I believe that there is much room across the ideological spectrum for all sorts of ideas; diversity of thought, like all other types of diversity, is valuable and should be appreciated. However, my problem lies in the total unwillingness to work with, or even listen to, anyone that disagrees, no matter how small the disagreement. Many politicians would rather campaign about a problem than compromise in any attempt to fix it. Instead, the political parties do nothing until one has a decisive majority and tries to unilaterally ram their legislation through Congress without even including the minority party in the discussion, creating a policy that is almost certain to not last. The result is that, in 2019, we are having the same debates about immigration, social security, and abortion that we have been having for decades because there were no lasting bipartisan solutions made.

This is simply unacceptable. It is constructive, arguably critical, for politicians to fiercely debate which issues need to be addressed and which policies are most effective. The shift from constructive to destructive occurs when they are fundamentally unable to agree on anything or unwilling to attempt to work together, meaning that no solutions are made, no progress is achieved, and no people are helped.

To combat our dysfunctional democracy, we need a new generation of laudable leaders to protect freedom, promote opportunity, and preserve democracy by displaying a willingness to compromise, the idea that built the America that we all know and love.

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