Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Democrats need to learn to compromise

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Analyst
  • Martin: GOP waging battle amongst themselves over what it means to be Republican
  • Dems also fail to compromise within their own party, he says
  • Martin: Frustrating to watch both parties dig heels in and refuse to find common ground
  • This "stick-to-your-guns" strategy does not, nor will it ever, result in real gains, says Martin

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America," and the forthcoming book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a one-hour Sunday morning news show.

(CNN) -- With Tea Party activists brewing their own strain of conservativism, Republicans are waging a fierce battle amongst themselves over what it means to be a member of the Grand Old Party.

We saw this play itself out in November in New York's 23rd congressional district when the Republican candidate chosen by party leaders was forced out of the race after a conservative candidate who didn't know a darn thing about the issues in the district captured the fancy of the Tea Party renegades, and almost won the seat.

Now we see the same thing playing out in Florida, where the state's once-popular Republican governor, Charlie Crist, is in a dogfight with his far more conservative challenger for the U.S. Senate nomination, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Even the Republican National Committee is fending off a concerted effort to keep the party's money from candidates that don't pass a "purity" test.

While such a thing isn't being presented as rigidly by Democrats/progressives/liberals, the debacle in Congress is clear evidence that there is a "who-is-more-of-a-real-Democrat" battle ensuing between the various wings of the party.

The net result of this silliness is that Democrats are on the verge of not getting much done in terms of health care, freezing spending and other measures because some choose to govern from an intractable position.

Even President Obama cautioned in his State of the Union speech that a failure to lead by his own party is not the way to go.

"To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills," the president said.

Yet on so many issues, different groups under the Democratic tent are burying their heads in the sand, angry if they don't fully get their way.

Look at health care. At some point those who support a public option must realize it's not going to happen. So in a world where compromises matter, you push and push and push, and you try to get as much as you can, and you reach a conclusion that is satisfactory, rather than say: "If I don't get all I want, it's over."

Every time I read the, Arianna Huffington -- a former Republican -- is blasting away about something Democrats and the administration aren't doing right. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, is almost fed up with the president, continuing to argue that the nearly $800 billion stimulus plan last year wasn't enough, and more money needed to be spent. These folks have never had to put together a coalition of at least 220 elected officials and get them to stay on point.

And now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants a freeze on defense spending if the president wants to freeze most non-military federal spending in 2011. So congressional liberals are ready to spend and spend and spend on stuff they want after eight years of President George W. Bush. Fine, so how do we pay for all of this? She also is playing with fire because weakness on defense is the thorn in the side of Democrats. Any tragedy on national security on their watch will lead to massive losses for their party.

This "stick-to-your-guns" strategy does not, nor will it ever, result in real gains. Like it or not, politics is about compromise. In some ways, Democrats are sounding like Republicans in the health care debacle, who demand to be included, offer a host of ideas, and when a few are accepted, they say it's not enough.

As someone who has voted for Democrats and Republicans, it's frustrating that we are stuck in this political matrix, watching members of both parties dig their heels in the ground and refuse to find common ground.

Right now, Democrats hold a 78-vote margin in the House, and 18 in the Senate, larger margins than President Bush ever had. Yet he still managed to pass a host of measures. Why? Because Republicans knew how to stick together and put some of their bruised egos aside (although it would have helped them stand up to the president when he turned a federal surplus into a deficit).

Democrats have a real chance to affect the American people in a positive way. It's time for them and their allies to stop focusing on their pie-in-the-sky expectations and embrace what can be achieved. Otherwise, they might find themselves in the minority come this time next year, and when assessing blame, they can simply look for the closest mirror.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.