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A Take on Compromise vs. Common Ground


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Negative political commercials often make us feel like we've hit a new low. This election season is no different -- flickering, slow motion video with melodramatic chords and ominous announcers. Yes, we might have hit a new low. And that's the pesky thing about aiming for something -- sometimes you hit it.

Before I go any further - lest the reader think I labor under the impression that I am a member of a party holier-than-thou in political propriety: I believe there are plenty with Rs next to their names, dusting their hands and congratulating themselves for the latest grenade blasted across the aisle. Bravo gentlemen and ladies, you have won your battle and lost America's war.


Again and again this word comes up. I believe it is a manifestation of a real and serious question held by many Americans - Democrat, Independent, Republican, Libertarian, liberal, conservative, moderate, progressive, left, or right-- and it goes like this: "Please. Please. Please can't you try to work together?"

It is a question I believe is worthy of a thoughtful answer.

Here goes:

The fact of the matter is that good, serious-minded, and well-intentioned individuals just flat disagree as to the best course for our nation.

Stop and read that sentence again. Does it reflect what you believe? I would argue that how America collectively feels about this statement will indicate our ability to come together and solve our problems.

Let me explain: Every American knows that we face significant struggles. Our economy, debt, healthcare, defense, education or changing world affairs -- they're heaped in front of us and we're at the base of the mountain staring up. On this we all agree. But as Americans we differ greatly in our approach to actually get over the mountain. My point today is not to illuminate why I believe one approach is more effective than other -- I do that every day. Instead, I would argue, that some of us -- probably many of us -- also believe that there is a path of common ground to solving our struggles.

Yet some, emboldened by political predetermination, forego even the possibility of finding common ground due to personal attacks, character assassinations, cheap analysis, and rehearsed sound bites. Their goal is to lead us to believe that if someone disagrees with us politically that individual is not good, serious-minded, well-intentioned, or thoughtful. If they are successful, how is it that we will ever find common ground with those we believe to be bad, careless, destructive, and ignorant?

Now - back to the word compromise. There are certain issues - smaller government, religious freedom, constitutional integrity, low taxes, and a strong national defense, to name a few, that I just can't compromise on. I can't. I won't. In fact, I will become passionate, and boldly defend these principles when I believe they have been impinged upon.

Is there no place for me then when it comes to common ground? Am I, resolute in my principles, to be lumped with the dirtiest of the mudslingers? No. I believe we ought to spend time and energy broadening what has become a fine line between the passionate partisan and the passionate citizen.

The American people are not looking to hand out medals to those who "get along the best." They see the mountain and they know it's going to take some ruggedness to get over it. I believe they will not award their respect to one who, having pliable principles, finds it possible to agree with anyone, but rather the one who despite uncompromised principles is willing to work with anyone to find something they both agree upon.

The word compromise, thus, has become unfair short-hand for seeking common ground. But it is no wonder that the concepts of compromise and common ground are easily confused. How woefully out-of-shape we are in our ability to work with one another! To some it can feel awful to even try - awful like the overheated, nauseated feeling of exercise long suspended. Yet, from the work comes healthy results, as small though they may feel in the moment. Some examples:

In Virginia, 207,000 could lose their jobs under defense sequestration cuts. Other states will also feel difficult impacts. I've worked with Members across the country to organize listening sessions on the issue. Congressman Dave Loebsack -- a Democrat -- drove two hours to join one of the discussions. We listened, we talked, we disagreed, we agreed. It was more real than most of the dialogue that has been had in Washington on the issue.

Democrat Madeline Bordallo and I are the respective Ranking Member and Chairman of the Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee during a time of unprecedented uncertainty and angst in national defense. We don't always agree. But we've never questioned each other's character or commitment to constituents. It's a foothold.

Dan Lipinski and I feel differently about most issues. But we came together to write a piece of legislation to prioritize medical research. A Democrat and Republican working on health care? Earth-shattering, no. Progress, yes.

Mike McIntryre -- a Democrat from North Carolina -- and I chair the Congressional Prayer Caucus. Mike takes very different votes on issues than I do. Yet together we've built the caucus to over 100 bipartisan Members. We don't just talk, we zero-in on issues of religious freedom and use the full force of the caucus to rectify Constitutional inequities or inaccuracies. We are effective.

On the issues of today, yes, let's disagree - wildly at times. Let's passionately make our case, let's illuminate different schools of thought and different courses of action. But in the process, let's not forget how to work with one another and find areas of agreement.

Together, as we walk up our generation's mountain in search of common ground, we'll feel the burn, and it'll be exhausting. We'll be tempted to succumb to the nagging thought that this-is-not-happening-fast-enough-so-perhaps-it-is-not-even-worth-it. Yes, it would be easier to settle back into the comfort of our chairs and fire another grenade. Except this time, we're aiming for something different. And that's the pesky thing about aiming for something -- sometimes you hit it.

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