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“The Framers operated behind locked doors and windows, with the press barred from entry to Independence Hall, and the Delegates sworn to secrecy. In so doing, they set a standard that their successors sometimes forget. They achieved their grand compromise in a series of closed meetings, secure in the knowledge that their work would be voted on publicly by all Delegates,” he wrote.
Frenzel argues that the experience of the framers remains relevant to the politics of today:
“In contentious issues, like the creation of the Constitution, a compromise on the budget, or comprehensive tax reform — strong positions must be abandoned for the success of the final, comprehensive solution. If early concessions are revealed, the process may be doomed.”
From there, Frenzel zeroes in on one of the concerns Americans have with Washington:
“As American politics have become more polarized, political activists at both ends of the spectrum have become less trusting of their representatives. The zealots of the polar constituencies — who might tolerate a final compromise which were to include concessions by their opponents — are highly intolerant of their own representatives ‘caving in’ on any of their strongly held positions as the negotiations proceed.”
Frenzel concludes with some frank advice:
“If we are going to rely on commissions to help us meet our most pressing fiscal challenges, we need to make sure they have the space and breathing room that will help them get the job done. ... Transparency and openness are wonderful for debates and for actual voting. However, history shows that they have been a real hindrance to successful bargaining and negotiating of tough issues, especially in today’s polarized political environment.”
Even though this advice was written months before the deficit reduction panel was formed, it is relevant to the deliberations this fall.
It’s also advice that runs counter to the conventional wisdom in Washington — which, when you think about it, is what wise men are supposed to provide and why Frenzel’s words are worth considering today.
Lou Zickar is editor of the Ripon Forum, a centrist Republican journal of political thought and opinion published by the Ripon Society.