Cohen: Compromise in the political sphere

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Cohen: Compromise in the political sphere

Julia Cohen, Columnist

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Disagreeing over a not-for-profit became reason for shutting down the government when some House Republicans refused to vote for a government budget unless Planned Parenthood stops performing abortions.

That is unacceptable.

As ridiculous as the whole shutdown sounds, it’s not the first time it’s happened, and it probably won’t be the last. Radical actions are replacing rational discussion, and this death of compromise has terrifying consequences for all.

We take our system of government for granted. That’s not to say that we should not work to make changes, but the fact that the president willingly offers to give up power every four years is actually pretty remarkable. It took civilization thousands of years to get to a point where peaceful transitions of power are commonplace, and we’re still not totally there yet – just look at Syria. We have this peace of mind only because of compromise. Even if one party loses a major election, they don’t lose all their representation or rights. Likewise, regardless of the results of an election, everyone gets to enjoy the stability of a representative government.

When our leaders start to react to differences of opinion by threatening an aimless veto, they degrade this system. Shutting down the government isn’t starting a violent war, but it leans toward breaking the oaths that all government officials must take to defend and protect their constituents. House Republicans know refusing to approve a budget is harmful to all constituents. That’s why they’re willing to do it. It’s a threat that demands a simple, sweeping answer instead of a more complex but moderate one. Actions like these turn governing into a game of strategy instead of a job centered on protecting the American people.

Compromise is difficult. It requires giving up parts of what you want while acknowledging that your opponent has legitimate interests. The problem is that we have short attention spans. While compromise is necessary to a functioning society, it isn’t particularly interesting to watch. In a political system that relies on headlines and sound bites, bold and radical action is more likely to catch the attention of voters and donors than quiet discussion. The compromisers get lost in a sea of screaming idealists and shut out of the decision-making process. Politicians get louder each election cycle, trying to one-up each other on who has defeated more enemies or who has gotten their way in more legislation. If we allow this to continue, we will lose the middle ground entirely and lose our country to a dangerous stalemate.

Do I think we are imminently headed toward a dictatorship? Of course not. Luckily, we have a decent system of checks and balances to prevent the nation from crumbling entirely (like the military continuing to operate despite a shutdown). But when politicians choose to shut down the government at the expense of their constituents instead of mediate their beliefs, they break an important, implicit pact that they made with the people. It is these agreements – to protect and defend the citizens of the United States – that allow our country to continue to be great. Putting them aside to pursue personal interests will only make us weaker.

Julia Cohen is a SESP junior. She can be reached at If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.