Ever since the Tea Party became a force both in and out of government, you hear the same thing from that group; i.e. “stand on (or stick) to your principles”. In practical terms, this means “Do not compromise. Draw a line in the sand, plant your flag on it” and give no quarter or an inch when it comes to policy-making and governing. While such a stance sounds quite high-minded, idealistic and noble, it flies in the face of more than two centuries worth of history of American governance, starting with the framing of our Constitution and moving forward from there.

When our Founding Fathers assembled to decide on the structure of our government they were a body divided over many issues, but especially over the question of whether we should have a strong central government with the individual states in a subordinate role, or a weak central government with more power dispersed to the states. Both sides stood on principle, the debate becoming heated; at times even rancorous. What finally emerged was a compromise that gave both sides some of what they wanted. It’s what skilled negotiators call a “win/win”. But that result came about only because both sides finally saw that the only way to move forward was to accept less than 100% of what each wanted.

That spirit of compromise has been the hallmark of US governance for over 200 years. Unfortunately, that lengthy history has been lost on those Tea Party members of Congress who won election in 2010; they of the “line in the stand/plant your flag there” mindset. With these folks “compromise” is a word fraught with negative connotations like “squishy” and “weak”. With them, the idea of negotiating to the aforementioned “win/win” from a position of principle is unworthy of the slightest consideration. Implicit in this hard-line strategy is the belief that we are completely right, while you are completely wrong. This is a world where reality contains only two colors – black and white. In between, there are no shades of gray.

For at least the last two years, our government has been at a standstill because these same Tea Party members refuse to negotiate in a spirit of compromise, choosing instead to vote as a bloc to impede progress or conflict resolution. The responsibility for the recent government shutdown falls squarely in their laps. Their faux offer of compromise was to proceed with the funding of the government, something that they are charged to do by law, but only if the president gave in to their unbending demands. In other words, all the real giving was entirely on the part of the other side.

This is not grown-up behavior. Rather, it is that of a petulant, spoiled three-year old who threatens to hold his breath until he gets his way. That is what we are cursed with and must endure until the 2014 midterm election. One can only hope that the outcome of that voting will move us towards better days thereafter.