Sunday, September 02, 2012

How Reagan Was Compromised

Published in The Tennessean, Sunday, September 2, 2012 and in FORBES with archives.
by Richard J Grant

A politician who leads with compromise is like a prize fighter who leads with his chin. If you're in a real fight, you're not going to last long.

Some months ago, “compromise” was one of most popular words in political discourse. But the calls for compromise were suspiciously unidirectional. We were treated to portrayals of President Ronald Reagan as “the great compromiser” who, despite his professed intention to reduce marginal tax rates, actually “raised taxes 11 times.” Clearly this was a call to conservatives and Republicans, in the name of a man for whom they had great respect, to follow his example and compromise with those who wish to raise tax rates, perhaps in return for spending cuts, in order to reduce the budget deficit.

But should Reagan be remembered as a great compromiser? It is unlikely that the striking air traffic controllers or the Soviets would agree.  The art of principled compromise entails giving up a lesser value to achieve a greater value. The strikers and the Soviets asked Reagan to do the opposite; they ended with nothing.