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The Mindsets of Political Compromise

  • Amy Gutmann (a1) and Dennis Thompson (a2)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1537592710003270
  • Published online: 23 November 2010
Abstract

Political compromise is difficult in American democracy even though no one doubts it is necessary. It is difficult for many reasons, including the recent increase in political polarization that has been widely criticized. We argue that the resistance to compromise cannot be fully appreciated without understanding its source in the democratic process itself, especially as conducted in the U.S. The incursion of campaigning into governing in American democracy—the so called “permanent campaign”—encourages political attitudes and arguments that make compromise more difficult. These constitute what we call the uncompromising mindset, characterized by politicians' standing on principle and mistrusting opponents. This mindset is conducive to campaigning, but not to governing, because it stands in the way of necessary change and thereby biases the democratic process in favor of the status quo. The uncompromising mindset can be kept in check by an opposite cluster of attitudes and arguments—the compromising mindset—that inclines politicians to adapt their principles and respect their opponents. This mindset is more appropriate for governing, because it enables politicians more readily to recognize and act on opportunities for desirable compromise. We explore the dynamics of these mindsets by examining the processes that led to the compromises on tax reform in 1986 and health care reform in 2010.

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Dennis Chong , and James N. Druckman . 2007. “Framing Theory.” Annual Review of Political Science 10: 103–26.


Morris P. Fiorina , and Samuel J. Abrams . 2008. “Political Polarization in the American Public.” Annual Review of Political Science 11: 563588.

Amy Gutmann , and Dennis Thompson . 2004. Why Deliberative Democracy? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jane Mansbridge , with James Bohman , Simone Chambers , David Estlund , Andreas Føllesdal , Archon Fung , Cristina Lafont , Bernard Manin , and José Luis Martí . 2010. “The Place of Self-Interest and the Role of Power in Deliberative Democracy.” Journal of Political Philosophy 18(1): 64100.

Simon Căbulea May . 2005. “Principled Compromise and the Abortion Controversy.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 33(4): 317348.

Russell Muirhead . 2006. “A Defense of Party Spirit.” Perspectives on Politics 4(4): 713727.

Brendan Nyhan . 2010. “Why the ‘Death Panel’ Myth Wouldn't Die: Misinformation in the Health Care Reform Debate.” The Forum 8(1). (http://www.bepress.com/forum/vol8/iss1/art5), accessed May 5, 2010.

Randall Strahan . 1989. “Members' Goals and Coalition-Building Strategies in the US House: The Case of Tax Reform.” Journal of Politics 51(2): 373384.

Dennis F. Thompson 2007. “Mill in Parliament: When Should a Philosopher Compromise?” In J.S. Mill's Political Thought, eds. N. Urbinati and A. Zakaras . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leigh Thompson , Jiunwen Wang , and Brian C. Gunia . 2010. “Negotiation.” Annual Review of Psychology 61: 491515.

John F. Witte 1991. “The Tax Reform Act of 1986: A New Era in Tax Politics?American Politics Research 19(4): 438–57.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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