Down through the ages, a pretty comprehensive list of sins has been compiled to guide our daily lives.
Some have been added over time as society’s norms have changed, and others have been stricken from the list.
I’m not here to preach to you about envy, gluttony or greed, or even some of the more salacious sins. I’m wringing my hands that compromise appears to be on the list, too, at least when it comes to politics and governing.
That’s a shame, for compromise should be in everyone’s book of virtues.
But compromise has become almost a sign of weakness in politics and governing. In our fractious world, too many of us are unwilling to venture away from the absolutist, my-way-or-the-highway approach when it comes to a whole host of issues facing Iowa and our nation.
Both political parties are adept at practicing this sort of intractability.
There are some Republicans in Washington who are beginning to talk openly about wanting another cut in federal income taxes, even though the government is weighed down today by a nearly trillion-dollar budget deficit and a record federal debt that now exceeds $23 trillion.
At the same time, some Democratic presidential candidates — notably, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — are campaigning on the need for a “yuge” income tax increase and a wealth tax on the richest Americans. We are hearing about this even though there is little appetite among many Americans for another prolonged fight over taxes.
Those of us who inhabit the middle ground often get overlooked these days as right-wing extremism and left-wing extremism become more entrenched in our politics.
It’s not just the D’s and R’s who are fighting. If you pay attention to political analysts, commentators and politicians, you see some Republicans facing the wrath of the president and his base when they criticize him. Likewise, you see moderate Democrats being targeted by fellow Democrats for not supporting positions the critics think are progressive enough.
Consider the case of Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
In just a year, he has surged from obscurity to the top of some polls of Iowa Democrats. But he has been pummeled by some Democratic activists nationally for not being liberal enough on health care and on how the country should deal with the cost of college.
He refuses to get behind Sanders’ and Warren’s plans for everyone to be covered under Medicare. Instead, he prefers to allow people to remain on their employer-provided group insurance plans if they want or to choose to be covered under the federal government’s Medicare insurance plan.
More recently, the progressive critics’ displeasure with Buttigieg has focused on his refusal to get behind the tuition-free public college plans advocated by Sanders, the Vermont senator.
But the free-college advocates don’t like to talk about whether there are better and more sustainable ways to provide more people with education and training after high school.
They fail to recognize how compromise can strengthen and improve proposals.
The discussion and compromise that should be part of the everyday legislative process in Des Moines and Washington is on life support in today’s climate of political polarization.
Without a willingness to talk about differing proposals and to engage in a productive give-and-take to shape a workable compromise, nothing gets accomplished — other than pointing fingers at those whose ideas don’t agree with ours.
Flaws in some ideas don’t get examined and resolved — flaws like, what would become of Iowa’s 24 private colleges and universities that educate thousands of students annually and greatly enrich their communities culturally, academically and economically.
How would they survive if students could attend the three state universities or the state’s community colleges without paying tuition?
Rural Iowa already has a bumper crop of challenges from the changing complexion of American agriculture and retailing. Rural communities would suffer an unnecessary and devastating blow if these private colleges were priced out of existence in places like Storm Lake, Pella, Orange City and Waverly.
Without discussion and compromise, there’s no way to address Buttigieg’s fundamental philosophical concerns about tuition-free-for-everyone proposals, including the children of wealthy Americans, at a time when the public’s appetite for government help far exceeds our desire to pay the taxes to provide that help.
Without debate and compromise, no middle ground is possible from today’s reality where Iowa young people finish their college degrees with some of the highest student loan debt in the nation. Two-thirds of Iowa graduates owe an average of $30,000 when they leave college.
Without debate and compromise, ideas like expanding the federal government’s Pell Grants go nowhere. These grants now provide financial assistance of up to $6,195 per year to low income college students and can be used at public or private colleges and universities.
The United States needs to be guided by a quotation I once heard. It reminds us, “Compromise is what makes nations great and marriages happy.”
By Randy Evans