By Peter Berkowitz
As we head into autumn’s debt ceiling showdown and with both sides braced for more bruising battles over the budget, progressive pundits and politicians have resumed their condemnation of conservatives as the anti-compromise camp. Among the benefits that accrue to progressives for hurling this accusation is that it deflects attention from the intransigence woven into the very fabric of contemporary progressivism.
In the liberals’ telling, the Republican Party has been overrun by extremists who reject compromise on principle, preferring to lose politically than yield an inch on taxes, spending, or Obamacare. This is a caricature, but it doesn’t come from whole cloth: Many conservatives — both on the national stage and among the grassroots — do speak as if compromise is an inherently corrupt practice that runs contrary to the American constitutional tradition.
Such uncompromising aversion to compromise is bad politics, bad constitutionalism, and bad conservatism. It confuses standing tough with standing inflexibly in place. It overlooks the multiplicity of mechanisms the framers incorporated into the Constitution to induce political moderation. And it collapses the difference between principles and policy, a distinction that the modern conservative tradition teaches is vital to the prudent defense of principle.