What ever happened to compromise?


In my last op-ed, I invited liberal readers to meet me and other conservatives halfway and see if we could not only agree to disagree in a respectful fashion but also see if we could even forge some degree of agreement among our disagreements. That is, are we capable of compromise or has this become hopeless in our current polarized political climate? 

For example, one critic of mine, in a “rebuttal” of my “Oy Vey: The Excesses of Identity Politics” op-ed (March 25), refused to concede anything I had to say, particularly my comment that “until we accept that colorblindness is an empirical possibility and a normative imperative, the race conversation is going nowhere.” She insisted colorblindness is bad. 

I am willing to agree with her that we are not there yet — there is still too much racism in American society — but can she not understand that I was talking aspirationally and that, ultimately, if we cannot judge people individually on what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the content of their character rather than the color of their skin,” we resign ourselves to an eternally racist society? 

Can we agree that, while we have to continue pursuing racial justice, surely the ultimate goal must be to move beyond race, to become colorblind, and the sooner the better? As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts once said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” 


Thurgood Marshall himself, arguing before the Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, stated that “distinctions by race are so evil, so arbitrary and insidious that a state bound to defend the equal protection of the laws must not allow them in any public sphere.” 

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, a liberal, in his book “The Disuniting of America,” condemned our growing obsession with racial identity in the 1990s, which has only metastasized since. 

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is the author of 10 books on international and American politics.

In a Nov. 22, 1991, speech at Dartmouth University, he lamented: “Today, many Americans disavow the historic goal of a new race of man. … The new ethnic gospel … rejects the ideals of assimilation and integration, rejects the common culture — its underlying philosophy is that America is not a nation of individuals at all but a nation of groups.”

Can we all agree that, while diversity is wonderful, unity is better than disunity? 

I am encouraged by a series of recent phone exchanges I have had with a complete stranger, a self-described liberal who called to start up a conversation about my Jewish Light op-eds. He said he disagreed with most of what I had to say but was willing to engage me in thoughtful, civil discussion of our differences. We have ended on a still discordant but entirely respectful, friendly note, where we have somewhat lessened the distance of our disagreements and acknowledged each of us has some merit to our arguments. 

He first apologized for calling to disagree with me, whereupon I said no apology was necessary because he was entitled to dissent and, indeed, I welcomed vigorous, healthy debate. 

He cursed Fox News for its slanted conservative coverage. I responded that I agreed Fox was biased but surely no more so than MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, and much of the mainstream media that deserve equal censure for their blatant liberal bias. A Gallup poll last year found that 83% of Americans felt the media were politically biased. I argued that American journalism, with a few exceptions, has become a disgrace and merits the label “fake news.” He grudgingly agreed.  

He was very critical of religious people, such as those who fill the pews of evangelists like Joel Osteen. I agreed that I did not understand the fanatical attraction of such pulpits, although not only are those folks entitled to exercise their freedom of religion, they are not altogether different from the true believers on the left who subscribe to extreme beliefs amounting to a secular religion. I noted that the left has a blind spot toward organized religion insofar as they argue we should respect every lifestyle imaginable at the same time they often ridicule orthodox worshippers, most of whom only wish to practice their faith without imposing it on others. He half agreed with me. 

He repeated the standard liberal narrative about systemic police racism when condemning the recent deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and other young Blacks at the hands of police. I shared his strong condemnation of these tragic killings and agreed that bad, incompetent cops should be weeded out of police forces, but I had to remind him there was simply no empirical evidence of an epidemic of white officers killing unarmed Black men. 

As Heather MacDonald pointed out (“The Myth of Systemic Police Racism,” Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2020), the hard data compiled by The Washington Post show police in 2019 fatally shot a total of nine unarmed Blacks and 19 unarmed whites. 

Another analyst (Jerry Radcliffe, “Fatal Shootings by Police,” Reducing Crime, August 25, 2020) reports on about 1,000 fatal police shootings in 2019. More whites (403) were killed than Blacks (250). Well over two-thirds of Blacks killed had a firearm or some other weapon. 

“The number of unarmed fatal shootings of Black citizens occurs at a rate of a bit less than one in every million police-community contacts,” Radcliffe wrote.

My phone-caller was surprised by these facts but nonetheless felt I was refusing to fully recognize a problem. 

And so on. Our debates have continued without rancor. 

We keep saying that one day we should meet in person over a cup of coffee or a beer so that we can really go at it. My guess is that one of us will remain a liberal and the other a conservative, but that we can offer a model of civility rather than anger, searching for compromise even as we continue to disagree over politics and values.

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is the author of 10 books on international and American politics.