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

Amy Gutmann, Author, Dennis Thompson, Author
Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson. Princeton Univ., $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-691-15391-9
Reviewed on: 03/05/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
Paperback - 279 pages - 978-0-691-16085-6
Open Ebook - 305 pages - 978-1-4008-4163-9
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-4008-5124-9
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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)
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