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The art of compromise

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Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013

With Republicans and Democrats voting to adopt legislation that avoided the fiscal cliff, the spotlight is on the art of compromise. It is a good omen that extremists on both ends of the political spectrum howled, claiming that their side was given short shrift.

Conservative Republicans bemoaned the lack of spending cuts in the new law, and more Republicans voted against it than for it. “Progressive” Democrats groused about President Obama's decision to raise the cut-off for continued tax relief from those earning $250,000 per year to $400,000, yet most of those critics supported the bill anyway.

But thanks to compromise, taxes will not increase on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of businesses. Unemployment benefits will be extended for those who continue to search for work.

And America's status will not be further harmed by politicians acting in an impolitic manner.

When men's fashion switches from wide ties to narrow or abandons paisley print yet again, you can refuse to budge. Dig in your heels and stick with a razor blade instead of switching to disposables or eschew a smartphone and start 2013 with a Filofax.

Compromise is required for the big issues that affect all Americans.

The one lesson here is that taking issues to the brink is a tactical error, since compromise reached early is better for both sides, usually finding more common ground, broader support. Waiting until or beyond the last possible moment for a resolution always puts one party in a tighter spot.

When corporate leaders make a deal, they write books as masters of the art, which is nothing more than a jumble of compromises. That seems to be OK with most folks, even those who decry compromise in government.

But compromise in government is no different — nothing more than reaching agreement on those things that will allow government to move forward.

Each side decides that it is better to get some of what it desires than have the whole proposition fail.

Being compromised, a certain evil, is very different than compromising. Any public official who has taken the oath of office and then caves to someone who demands a second oath restricting his or her voting prerogatives has been compromised. It is selling one's vote in perpetuity in exchange for political support.

“I can accept anything, except what seems to be the easiest for most people: the half-way, the almost, the just-about, the in-between,” says Ayn Rand, who can count among her acolytes Republican Paul Ryan. Still, even Ryan came around and voted for the compromise legislation.

Rand's philosophy is OK if you are a writer or pundit with no need to actually produce results. But try running a government with that approach, and you will surely fail.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill. E-mail him at:

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