When he was running for reelection in 1974, our father, Sen. Jacob Javits, took part in a heated debate at the City Club of New York. He was taking fire from the left and right — from a Democratic rival and a Conservative Party candidate — who shared the same critique: that the third-term progressive Republican senator was too willing to compromise.
“My opponent makes fun of me for being the Great Compromiser,” Javits said, responding to his opponent on the right. “Well, compromise produced the War Powers Act. Compromise produced pension reform. Compromise produced legal services for the poor and cancer research. Compromise has to be. You can’t have great, pious beautiful ideas but no performance.”
Four decades later, compromise is not just a dirty word in politics. To many politicians, it’s a cardinal sin. To some voters and many interest groups, it’s a sign of weakness or worse, a betrayal of core principles. Even lawmakers who want to find common ground fear the consequences of reaching too far across the aisle: a primary challenge; attacks from partisans on TV and social media; eroding support from their political base; an early exit from elected life.