OneMaine is one of several groups that have arisen to combat America’s toxic political conversation. Its purpose is to support candidates across a broad spectrum who reject hyperpartisanship, represent their constituents not special interests, and seek principled compromise on behalf of the whole community. Clearly we are at the limit of strident discourse and unbending gridlock. We need more civility, more thoughtfulness, more effort to understand, rather than react to, each other. But is compromise the way out of this mess?
Compromise has worked best during times of prosperity, as the 1950s, or national consensus, as the “era of good feelings”, or one-party dominance, as the New Deal.
It has not worked when there has been a crisis of vision. In 1776 the colonies issued a declaration, not a joint agreement. All the compromises that tried to resolve the slavery issue only put off the day of reckoning – and ensured it would be horrendous when it came. Those who rejected compromise – William Lloyd Garrison, Robert Barnwell Rhett – were condemned as fanatics. But they knew what Lincoln learned, that a house divided cannot stand.
Perhaps the one exception is the much-maligned 1960s, when the nation seemed bent on tearing itself apart. There was much ugliness: 50,000 dead in Vietnam; federal troops in our city’s streets; the Cuyahoga River bursting into flames; vigilante violence in the South. But out of those times came a new vision and some of the most important civil rights and environmental legislation in history.
Once again, two visions are competing for America’s soul. We do need more civil conversation, but I believe that one vision must triumph before consensus is possible.
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