Madison and Lincoln were superb politicians — tactically flexible and shrewd, able to distinguish between subsidiary issues and fundamental ones, and rejecting what has been called the “seductive appeal of the absolute” in order to work for the better. Both men were hard-headed, realistic and principled. They struck a deal if, but only if, they believed it would advance the cause to which they were dedicated.
Throughout American history, the word “compromise” has been a Rorschach test. By temperament and experience, many of us are drawn to, or made uneasy by, the concept. But those predispositions need to be set aside. Compromise, after all, can’t be judged in the abstract; it can only be assessed in particular circumstances. And it’s a two-edged sword. It’s basic to self-government — but in the wrong hands, in weak hands, compromise leads to setbacks. As a general rule, the best compromises are the ones agreed to by people who are willing to walk away from them, who see them as a means instead of an end. Think of Ronald Reagan at Reykjavik.
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Saturday, July 2, 2011
At Commentary, Peter Wehner notes that Madison made important compromises on the Constitution and Lincoln compromised in his choice of candidates.