Compromise or Capitulation?

The words Ted Sorensen used to write JFK's inaugural speech still ring true in politics today.

"So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us."

That quote was written in 1961 by John F. Kennedy's speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, who died last week. Used in JFK's Inaugural Address, the quote seems fitting to recall as all of us recover from an election that often focused more on acrimony and allegation than high-sounding public policy themes.

One question to ask is whether those who ran for election can make the transition from electioneering to governor. Another, posed recently by a reporter on a network news and public affairs show:  "Does compromise mean capitulation?"

If it does, we're all in trouble.

Compromise – finding the political and public policy center on tough policy issues – ought to be what government is about, both in Salem and in Washington, D.C, as well as in cities and counties.

Many dictionaries define politics as the "art of compromise." It truly is an art, not a science.

In some past times in Oregon, the art work has been painted by smart political leaders.

Consider about 15 years ago when workers' comp rates were at all all-time high and the high costs were at issue for businesses considering expanding or locating in Oregon. The then-governor, Neil Goldsch

midt, called management and labor representatives to the governor's residence in Salem, Mahonia Hall, and, figuratively at least, would not let them leave until they had worked together to find middle ground. The result was that workers' comp rates were brought under control and the factor became an incentive for business expansion and location in Oregon, not a deterrent.  What's more, injured workers were protected.

In the intervening years, management and labor have worked together to tweak what was first designed to make sure the proper balance was in place.

Political compromise requires a combination of at least two factors:  (1) Political leaders who are willing to do the hard work of bringing disparate interests together to force ompromise; and (2) representatives of all sides in a contentious public policy debate who are willing to do the hard work of finding smart middle ground – being willing to give and get as they come to the bargaining table.

Too often in politics, the smart middle is missing. The objective appears to be to designate winners and losers.

Here's hoping everyone can recover from the rough-and-tumble election campaign to do the hard work of compromising in the 2011 legislative session. Not capitulating. The issues this time around in Salem – especially the challenge of balancing the state budget in the face of an unprecedented revenue shortfall – demands no less.

How leaders find the smart middle will be one of the best ways to judge the success of the incoming gubernatorial administration and legislature.