U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, standing on a Lexington stage Sunday in a black turtleneck and blue jeans with a giant American flag as his backdrop, launched into a short talk about another Kentucky senator — Henry Clay.
“We’re taught Henry Clay was a great hero and that he staved off the Civil War,” said Paul, R-Bowling Green. “Perhaps. But another way of looking at it is maybe he compromised on things that we shouldn’t have compromised on. He compromised over whether or not owning another human was something that was wrong.”
In contrast, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, argued for more compromise Tuesday during a speech at the University of Kentucky.
“At the end of the day, in a democracy like ours, a republic, if we’re really going to be truly reflective of the need to first hear from everyone then reach some consensus, I don’t know how one does it if it’s not compromise,” Daschle said.
In the midst of a Congressional landscape that has made passing a yearly budget a herculean effort and a presidential race where both sides casually hurl insults at the other in their spare time, Paul and other senators are faced with questions of compromise constantly.
His response? Compromise is just OK.
“There are issues you can split the difference over,” Paul told his supporters Sunday. “But I think there are things that maybe you shouldn’t split the difference over. Your right to practice and exercise your religion, the First Amendment, your right to speak freely, your right to associate and assemble, I don’t think we should compromise.”
Daschle, who was voted out of office while Senate majority leader, has written a book about the need for compromise in Congress with his Republican friend and former colleague Trent Lott.
Daschle said the thing most people want to see from Congress right now is action.
“It seems to me that if either party could demonstrate a capacity for good governance they’re going to be well received by the electorate,” Daschle said. “I am totally convinced the American people are really tired of the dysfunction and the extraordinarily confrontational environment of Washington and want to see Congress working together to accomplish a good deal.”
It’s a topic that often pops up at Paul’s events with voters around the state. At a recent town hall in Liberty, Paul was asked several times about polarization and what he can do to get bills passed in Congress.
Paul, who faces a challenge from Lexington Mayor Jim Gray on Nov. 8, generally responds to such questions by touting his bipartisan bills, such as one addressing the opioid crisis, and warning of bad compromise, referring to bills where Republicans and Democrats agree to increase spending.
“People say, you’re not willing to compromise,” Paul said Sunday. “Sure I am.”
He went on to talk about being willing to compromise on raising the age to receive Social Security.
According to his 2015 report card on govtrack.us, a non-partisan site that tracks the legislative records of members of Congress, Paul was ranked third-lowest among Republican senators for writing legislation that had a Democratic cosponsor. Only 13 percent of his bills and resolutions had a Democratic co-sponsor.
It’s not clear, though, that Paul’s uncompromising ideals will cost him votes, given that studies show Americans are increasingly ideologically divided. But Daschle says the polarization of voters is made worse by Congress.
“It’s exacerbated in part by the dysfunction in Washington,” Daschle said. “It is an ideological debate, but it’s also a tactical debate and that tactical debate plays out almost every day in Washington between those who believe they were sent to Washington to stand their ground and those who believe they were sent to find common ground.”