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Danforth says compromise can fix our broken government

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 15, 2012 - Our government is broken and can only be fixed by compromise, concluded former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., who spoke at the Danforth-Eagleton Lecture in St. Louis on Thursday night. Danforth spoke about "Reflections on the Relationship of Religion to Government."

"Compromise is not a dirty word." Danforth said. "Compromise is the essence of politics. Compromise is needed to get us out of our current fix."

"For Republicans, that will mean abandoning the idea of no new taxes," Danforth added. "For Democrats, it will mean agreeing to substantial changes in entitlement programs."

The lecture was hosted by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis and the Judicial Learning Center. About 150 lawyers and judges attended.

At the start of his lecture, Danforth mentioned his friendship with former U.S. Sen. Tom Eagleton, D-Mo.  Danforth said he was honored to have his name linked to Eagleton's.

"I want to thank the Bar Association and the Judiciary Learning Center for naming this the Danforth-Eagleton Lecture Series, although for seniority, I would have put it the other way around," said Danforth. "It’s an honor for me, and it’s important symbolism to link our names together with a hyphen. It says much about the values of a lot of people in our state."

During his lecture, Danforth compared today's political atmosphere to the past.

"I do believe that politics has changed dramatically and for the worse since Tom and I served," he said.

Danforth observed that his bipartisan relationship with Eagleton would have invited a challenge in the next primary election in today's atmosphere. He noted, for example, that "Richard Lugar, a six-term Republican from Indiana and stalwart conservative lost to a tea party candidate for, among other things, supporting the nominations of Justices (Sonia) Sotomayor and (Elena) Kagan."

The inability to compromise and the insistence on ideological purity make it impossible to get anything done.

"When we reward politicians who refuse to compromise, we make effective governance impossible," Danforth said. "We violate the highest tradition of our country."

He contrasted that with the more inclusive style of Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, when he was Senate majority leader. With Dole, "the only way to add any amendment to any bill was with bipartisan sponsorship, usually an equal number of senators from each party," said Danforth. 

"Now, the political center, the place where decisions once were made, has collapsed," Danforth said. And candidates must appeal to the "true believers" who vote in the primary elections, by pledging uncompromising positions.

Danforth ended with a call to find the "voice of a political center that we must rebuild.  It’s the voice that must demand to be heard again.  It’s a voice that must shout to politicians of both parties. 'Enough of this! Get on with the work of government.'”

Josie Butler us a Beacon intern.