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Juana Bordas
Diversity leader

Juana Bordas

Juana Bordas is president of Mestiza Leadership International, a company focusing on leadership, diversity, and organizational change. Author of the 2007 book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, she is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

Ready to rumble?

Question: In approaching the coming Congressional budget battle, House Republican leaders have decided to forsake the bipartisan center and bow to the spending-cut demands of the most conservative members of their caucus. This mirrors the strategy of House Democratic leaders who, in the previous session, accommodated the demands of their most liberal members on key issues, only to lose power in the next election. Is it more effective for leaders to demonstrate a willingness to compromise early on, or to stake out a hard line in the hope of compromising less later?

Politics is the art of compromise--the ability to give and take. The "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" tradition may not be the most palatable, but it works. Yet this Congress is acting like they are ready to rumble. Everyone is in their corner, dukes up, gearing up for a fight.

Elected officials cannot pick up their marbles and go home. They are charged with governing, and this means they have to stay in the game. The rules of the game are that you win some and you lose some. Nobody wins all the time. The rules are you are polite with everyone. You show respect and you never embarrass your opponent. Because, guess what, you have keep working with them tomorrow and until the end of your term.

It seems like politicians in both parties have not just forsaken the art of compromise, but have left their good manners at home as well. John F. Kennedy understood the importance of keeping one's cool and being polite when he said, "Leadership is grace under fire."

Politics has been defined as a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. So where have all the bona fide politicians gone? Think Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy, who disagreed on nearly every issue for all the years they served together. Hatch wrote in his memorial to Kennedy, "We soon realized we could work well together if the two of us--positioned as we were on the opposite sides of the political spectrum--could find common ground." It was a bipartisan partnership that benefited millions of Americans including women, children, the disabled and AIDS victims, and which promoted such lofty goals as national and community service.

Hatch expressed concern that Washington "has become too bitterly partisan." His remedy: "that Americans in general and Washington politicians in particular will take a lesson from Ted's life and realize that we must aggressively advocate for our positions but realize that in the end, we have to put aside political pandering, work together and do what is best for America."

By staking out a hard line and by political posturing, both liberals and tea party advocates run the risk that they will stymie the collective process of politics, not reach a compromise and fail the very people that they strive to represent.

In reality our congressional representatives, as a group, represent all Americans. It is their sacred duty to ensure that the common welfare is served, not just the interest of a narrow band of their constituents. To do this, they must figure out where they can compromise, where mutual interests intersect, how they can negotiate bipartisan agreements and, yes, how they can do what is best for America.

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By Juana Bordas

 |  February 16, 2011; 2:44 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Compromise is an ideal, not a reality | Next: The tumor in this nation's belly


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Ms. Bordas comments to political compromise are purposely not complicated, which show the realism of her solution. Saying that our Congress is “ready to rumble” may be a simplified answer, but it also accounts that Congress needs to focus on the task at hand and stop worrying about “winning.” Compromise is the recognition of the ultimate goal—what’s best for America and it’s citizens. With failing to compromise, Congress will fail to get anything accomplished, ultimately backfiring. Creating hard lines only push the task back by making it more personal, creating more of these hard lines. Hard lines equates to hard headedness. Congressmen need to recognize that they cannot win every argument. Also, with compromise both sides have a voice. Failure to compromise will only cause more extreme left versus extreme right, both not favoring to the general public. The bickering of opposite sides in Washington is growing tiresome, and by taking time arguing they could be reaching a compromise. Ms Bordas seems to advocate that Congress needs to reconvene to note where they are able to compromise so they can better negotiate bipartisan agreements. The ultimate goal like Ms Bordas ends on is “how they can do what is best for America,” because if this goal has shifted in any way, Congress needs to take a step back and reflect back on what they are arguing about.

Posted by: meghanerkel | February 18, 2011 1:17 PM
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While I agree with Ms. Bordas that "By staking out a hard line and by political posturing, both liberals and tea party advocates run the risk that they will stymie the collective process of politics, not reach a compromise and fail the very people that they strive to represent." I feel that at this point, compromise to our leaders needs to be in the future, in the present goals. Compromise is an art, and if the newly elected congressional leaders want to continue asserting their majority to make a considerable change for their constituents, they must decide where they are unwilling to compromise and what areas they are willing to bend on. So early in their terms, this is not the time to start bending on what they feel are important issues, especially when the public is expecting change. Instead, the new leadership needs to start strong and compromise only on those issues that are not central to their being. Even though this may slow down the process, it is only through sticking to core values and asserting their authority that leaders can hope to serve their people and fully represent themselves without making compromises they may regret later.

Posted by: katskilton | February 18, 2011 12:02 PM
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Mrs. Bordas is right that politics is the art of compromise. The question all politicians have to ask themselves is how do they get distinct groups to come together and make policy?

But if one were to read only Mrs. Bordas' analysis, it would seem that our Congress is failing this crucial task. They are "acting like they are ready to rumble" rather than ensuring "that the common welfare is served."

This, though, is not true. Just look at the front page of today's New York Times business section. The article, "House Votes to End Alternate Jet Engine Program" details a House vote which cancelled an alternate fighter jet engine that both President Bush and President Obama agreed should be ended. 47 new Republican congressmen broke ranks with House speaker John Boehner and joined many Democrats in voting for the cut, which the New York Times described as a victory for President Obama and defense secretary Robert Gates. Of course this story will get little coverage in the media, which is obsessed with pitting Republicans and Democrats against one another in order to aid its narrative about the increasing partisan nature of American politics.

Politicians, and leaders in general, should not compromise their values and ideals just to say that they have compromised. While Mrs. Bordas fondly mentions Senator Orinn Hatch for his bipartisan nature, the fact is that his constituents don't agree with his decisions, especially his vote supporting the Wall Street bailout. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Senator Hatch was heckled, and his fellow Utah senator, Senator Mike Lee, has said he would not endorse Senator Hatch in his bid for reelection.

Senator Hatch is an example of compromise gone wrong. When leaders put their values on the back burner, their followers will take notice and demand accountability.

Posted by: mattwasserman | February 17, 2011 3:15 PM
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