By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Which of these two paragraphs makes the most sense to you?
The problem with Congress is that nobody goes to Washington and fights for what’s right. America needs elected officials who will stand on principle. We got into this mess because too many politicians go along to get along.
The problem with Congress is that there aren’t enough members who’ll work with both parties. We can’t get out of this mess unless members of Congress will work with each other, compromise a little, and get something done for the American people
If you’re like me, you might think both paragraphs are true, even though it’s hard for one person to exhibit both qualities. Who do we want: Someone who’ll stand on principle, or someone who will work with others as part of a democratic government with diverse constituencies?
And that’s your Senate race.
Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican, is paragraph 1. No one can question his willingness to stand on principle as a person or a policymaker. He voted against Hurricane Sandy relief because the package contained too much waste and not enough relief. The other members of Arkansas’ delegation decided they could live with the package’s flaws. He voted against the farm bill because he believes the government is spending too much on food stamps and because he believes food stamps and farm payments should be separate issues. But the reason they are paired is, to pass the bill, historically it’s been necessary to maintain a coalition of rural farm state congressmen and urban representatives with food stamp-receiving constituents. The rest of the state’s delegation voted yes.
Sen. Mark Pryor, the Democrat, is paragraph 2. He’s somewhat of a centrist in a party that has moved left while he represents a state that is voting to the right. He’s inclined to compromise, sometimes joining with other middle ground-seeking senators to try to bridge the chasm between the two sides. When the government shut down last year, he was one of 14 senators, Republican and Democrat, who produced a compromise that ended the impasse and reopened the government. But he’s not one who will lead the charge for a world-changing idea.
Seeing the glass as half empty in this race, either Arkansas’ next senator will stand for too much, or its next senator will not stand for enough. The glass-half-full side is, if there were no chasm-bridgers like Pryor in Congress, nothing would ever get done, and if there were no true believers like Cotton, nothing great would ever get done.
What works best in a democracy is “principled compromise” – the ability to stand on rock-solid principles and then work with others to enact polices that move the country in the best direction, often one small step at a time. Effective elected officials compromise not only because they must, but also because they see the value in another person’s perspective. For a senator to govern as if he cannot be wrong – that’s a dangerous quality to have. But we also know what happens when someone compromises too much. As country singer Aaron Tippin described it, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”
Let’s not forget the two other candidates in the race. Libertarian Nathan LaFrance wants less government than Pryor or even Cotton. Green Party nominee Mark Swaney is generally for more government on issues such as health care and the environment. They’re both paragraph 1 candidates campaigning on principle.
The candidate who wins the election hopefully will practice principled compromise in the Senate over the next six years – standing for what’s right while working with others, and compromising on policies without compromising his values. That’s a difficult tightrope for any of the 100 senators to walk, which is why, these past few years, we haven’t seen enough of them even try.