When did compromise become a dirty word in politics?
This country was founded on compromise. The United States Constitution is the result of a vociferous debate by two strong-willed factions, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. They fought over states’ rights and personal liberty versus a big powerful federal government.
If that debate sounds familiar, it’s because it continues to this day, only it is uglier and more unproductive — more theater to raise money than substance.
In 1787, the two sides in the constitutional debate came up with a compromise that serves as an enduring foundation to American democracy. Federalists, like Alexander Hamilton, are considered patriots just as much as Anti-Federalists, like Thomas Jefferson. Their compromise was much stronger than their individual advocacy; two sides both colliding and collaborating to form strong and lasting American principles.
That essential ingredient to governance has been lost. Our two-party system has been hijacked and factionalized. Passionate ideologues in both parties are emboldened in thought by Fox News and MSNBC and in action by the Koch Brothers and George Soros.
The ideologues use their power and passion to punish their own if they dare at even a hint of compromise, if they dare to think for themselves.
The latest victim is Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor who lost a primary election in Virginia to Tea Party candidate David Brat, an underfunded and little-known economics professor. When I heard the stunning political news, I immediately thought of Delaware Senator Christopher Coons. And it just so happens I was scheduled to interview Coons the day after the Cantor upset.
“I know what it’s like to go from 10 points down in the polls to 10 points up in one night,” Coons told me in a Washington TV studio, feeling simpatico with Jack Trammel, the Democrat who will run against Brat in the general election.
It was 2010, Coons was the Democratic nominee in a special election to replace Joe Biden in the U.S. Senate. Coons was to be a sacrificial lamb because popular Congressman and former Delaware Governor Mike Castle was running in the Republican primary. An expected Castle landslide would have helped the Republicans take control of the Senate. But a funny thing happened on the way to Castle’s swearing-in: Christine O’Donnell, a perennial candidate prone to saying off-the-wall things, beat Castle in the primary. It was the first big Tea Party victory. The ideologues wanted Castle out, simply because he was considered a moderate, who, god forbid, would compromise.
Coons beat O’Donnell easily in the general election. You know your campaign is in trouble when you have to deny you are a witch.
Senator Coons told me that he always liked and admired Mike Castle and did not celebrate the night he lost, instead he called Castle and offered consolation. In fact, Coons was behind naming a 16-mile nature trail along Delaware’s C&D canal the Michael N. Castle trail. You see, Delaware is not like the rest of the country. The politicians there have mutual respect for each other. They call it the Delaware Way.
And now Senator Coons is up for re-election. Coons is running unopposed, but in a midterm election with an anti-incumbent undercurrent, no one expects that to last. Even Coons agrees that a contested election would be good for Delaware and good for the country. The Republicans can and will drop someone in the race.
I hope it is Senator Chris Coons’s friend Mike Castle. I have admired Castle since I met him in Washington during the Clinton impeachment debate. Castle took no glee in the process and was in personal conflict over his vote. He is a thoughtful and humble man who put his country over party and personal gain, and for that he was cast aside.
Without Mike Castle, and others like him, we have a system of government that angrily divides America and nothing gets done. Politicians live in fear of being accused of aiding and abetting the enemy, accused of the new dirty word — compromise. We no longer have two parties, rather two warring tribes.
Mike Castle is living in blissful retirement in New Castle County. Recently he was approached to run for office again, either Senate or Congress, and he politely declined. I wish he would reconsider.
Two friends, Coons and Castle, could run against each other with mutual respect and admiration. It would be a campaign void of negative ads and replete with ideas for a better America. They could teach us all the Delaware Way.
Follow @LarryMendte on Twitter.