The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It

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Overview

If politics is the art of the possible, then compromise is the artistry of democracy. Unless one partisan ideology holds sway over all branches of government, compromise is necessary to govern for the benefit of all citizens. A rejection of compromise biases politics in favor of the status quo, even when the rejection risks crisis. Why then is compromise so difficult in American politics today?

In The Spirit of Compromise, eminent political thinkers Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson connect the rejection of compromise to the domination of campaigning over governing--the permanent campaign---in American democracy today. They show that campaigning for political office calls for a mindset that blocks compromise--standing tenaciously on principle to mobilize voters and mistrusting opponents in order to defeat them. Good government calls for an opposite cluster of attitudes and arguments--the compromising mindset--that inclines politicians to adjust their principles and to respect their opponents. It is a mindset that helps politicians appreciate and take advantage of opportunities for desirable compromise.

Gutmann and Thompson explore the dynamics of these mindsets by comparing the historic compromises on tax reform under President Reagan in 1986 and health care reform under President Obama in 2010. Both compromises were difficult to deliver but only tax reform was bipartisan. Drawing lessons from these and other important compromises--and failures to compromise--in American politics, Gutmann and Thompson propose changes in our political institutions, processes, and mindsets that would encourage a better balance between campaigning and governing.

Calling for greater cooperation in contemporary politics, The Spirit of Compromise will interest all who care about whether their government leaders can work together.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nonstop electioneering and the attitudes it fosters has given us a logjam in Washington instead of a government, argues this bland brief for a principled pragmatism. UPenn president and political scientist Gutmann and Harvard political philosopher Thompson (coauthors of Democracy and Disagreement) blame partisan gridlock on the “permanent campaign”—politicians’ need to constantly position themselves for the next election by staking out bright-line dogmas and demonizing opponents. The result is an “uncompromising mindset” of nonnegotiable tenacity, mistrust, and cynicism that’s antithetical to the “compromising mindset” of prudent give and take, mutual respect, and cooperation that good governance requires. The lucid but dry discussion mixes political theory—uncompromising standoffs, they contend, help no one’s interests and privilege the status quo over feasible improvements—with recaps of congressional dogfights, along with half-measure remedies, like making it easier to vote so that moderates will swamp zealots at the polls. Their case for the importance of compromise is impeccably high-minded and logical, but doesn’t quite register the atavistic force of intransigence, or that sabotaging government might be the goal, not the by-product, of a faction’s immovability. Gutmann and Thompson’s take on America’s intense political rancor amounts to a set of truisms—familiar and unarguable, but somehow beside the point. (May)
The New Republic
Provide[s] grist for thinking through the difficulties of compromise in [domestic policy], from tragic choices at desperate moments of history to the routine nastiness in American public life today. . . . Until recently, who would have thought it necessary to offer Americans advice in the ways of compromise? We used to enjoy a reputation for being a practical-minded people, our politicians being regarded as an all-too-flexible species. But something has changed, and according to Gutmann and Thompson, the change has to do with the relation of campaigning and governing. . . . Gutmann and Thompson end their book with recommendations to strengthen the spirit and practice of compromise.
— Paul Starr
Philadelphia Inquirer
Gutmann and Thompson articulately identify the conundrum that has made compromise unlikely, if not impossible, in Washington.
— Alexander Heffner
The New Republic - Paul Starr
Provide[s] grist for thinking through the difficulties of compromise in [domestic policy], from tragic choices at desperate moments of history to the routine nastiness in American public life today. . . . Until recently, who would have thought it necessary to offer Americans advice in the ways of compromise? We used to enjoy a reputation for being a practical-minded people, our politicians being regarded as an all-too-flexible species. But something has changed, and according to Gutmann and Thompson, the change has to do with the relation of campaigning and governing. . . . Gutmann and Thompson end their book with recommendations to strengthen the spirit and practice of compromise.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Alexander Heffner
Gutmann and Thompson articulately identify the conundrum that has made compromise unlikely, if not impossible, in Washington.
Choice
'Compromise is difficult, but governing a democracy without compromise is impossible.' So begins this excellent, much needed corrective to the contemporary political scene, which eschews compromise in politics in favor of war analogies. . . . This excellent book should be required reading for every member of Congress, and deserves a wide readership among the voting public.
Library Journal
Distinguished political scientists Gutmann (president & Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Univ. of Pennsylvania) and Thompson (Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy, Harvard Univ.) are past coauthors (e.g., Why Deliberative Democracy?). Their latest effort is complementary to their previous works, an assessment from a new angle of how political outcomes are reached in our democracy. This book's backdrop is one of political dysfunction such as that seen in the partisan health care legislation of 2010 and the 2011 struggle to raise the federal debt ceiling. The authors show throughout the book how the "uncompromising mindsets" of participants from both parties contributed to the difficulties of these episodes, with intrusions of the "permanent campaign" and instances of "mutual mistrust" all too evident. In contrast, they advocate the necessity and value of compromise and present past examples of how politicians such as Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch were able to combine partisan credentials with a "compromising mindset" to achieve bipartisan successes. VERDICT Scholars will appreciate the authors' lucid analysis of the dynamics of political compromise but will likely find that part of the book stronger than their suggestions for reform.—Bob Nardini, Niagara Falls, NY
From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"Provide[s] grist for thinking through the difficulties of compromise in [domestic policy], from tragic choices at desperate moments of history to the routine nastiness in American public life today. . . . Until recently, who would have thought it necessary to offer Americans advice in the ways of compromise? We used to enjoy a reputation for being a practical-minded people, our politicians being regarded as an all-too-flexible species. But something has changed, and according to Gutmann and Thompson, the change has to do with the relation of campaigning and governing. . . . Gutmann and Thompson end their book with recommendations to strengthen the spirit and practice of compromise."—Paul Starr, The New Republic

"'Compromise is difficult, but governing a democracy without compromise is impossible.' So begins this excellent, much needed corrective to the contemporary political scene, which eschews compromise in politics in favor of war analogies. . . . This excellent book should be required reading for every member of Congress, and deserves a wide readership among the voting public."—Choice

"For [the] lawmakers, and for the voters who claim to value compromise, reading this book would be a good start."—Ruth Marcus, Washington Post

"Scholars will appreciate the authors' lucid analysis of the dynamics of political compromise."—Library Journal

"Gutmann and Thompson articulately identify the conundrum that has made compromise unlikely, if not impossible, in Washington."—Alexander Heffner, Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691153919
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/22/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 766,196
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Amy Gutmann is president of the University of Pennsylvania, where she is also the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science. Dennis Thompson is the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University. Gutmann and Thompson are coauthors of "Why Deliberative Democracy?" (Princeton) and "Democracy and Disagreement."
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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
INTRODUCTION
Two Compromises 5
Characteristics of Compromise 10
Mindsets of Compromise 16
1 VALUING COMPROMISE
Costs of Not Compromising 30
Vulnerabilities of Compromise 35
Limits of Compromise 41
Limits of History 54
2 RESISTING COMPROMISE
The Makeup of Mindsets 64
Principled Tenacity 69
Mutual Mistrust 85
Uncompromising Multiplied 91
3 SEEKING COMPROMISE
Principled Prudence 101
Mutual Respect 109
Economizing on Disagreement 117
A Moment of Compromise 133
Compromising in an Uncompromising Time 140
4 CAMPAIGNING V. GOVERNING
Requisites of Campaigning 146
Two Conceptions of Democracy 152
5 GOVERNING WITH CAMPAIGNING
Space for Governing 168
Term Time 177
Time Is Money 180
Primary Pressures 184
More Participation? 186
Minding the Media 189
Strengthening Civic Education 199
CONCLUSION
The Uses of Mindsets 205
Doubts about Compromise 210
The Dilemma of Reform 214
The Support of Citizens 216
Notes 219
Acknowledgments 255
Index 257

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    A very good book for anyone interested in deliberation in the political environment of today. A good complimentary text to the literature on deliberative democracy. The book covers an important area of the field that hasd been ignored in the past

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