DOWD: Half a loaf is better than starving

President Ronald Reagan

Early in his first term, Ronald Reagan addressed a question from the media about whether he was abandoning his principles and campaign promises, especially when it came to his economic agenda and tax reform. Reagan responded by saying, “There are some people who would have you stand on principle that if you don’t get all that you’ve asked for from the legislature, you jump off the cliff with the flag flying. I have always figured that half a loaf is better than none and I know that in the democratic process, you’re not always going to get what you want.”Reagan faced a divided government where the GOP could not enact legislation without significant Democratic support. Yet he was able to work with his Democratic adversary, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, to pass not one but two landmark tax reform bills, comprehensive immigration reform and Social Security reform, among other accomplishments.We’ve come a long way since 1981. The two parties — and the American people for that matter — have rarely been more polarized politically. Despite that, voters delivered total control of Congress and the White House to Republicans in 2016 after eight years of anemic economic growth and a feckless foreign policy. The people elected as president a celebrity businessman, controversial and unorthodox, with a reputation for deal-making. He literally wrote the book on it. But Congressional Republicans so far have been unable to deliver on President Trump’s agenda because various factions cannot even find common ground within their own party, much less reach across the aisle to Democrats.And the Democrats are even more divided. The Democratic Party has moved so far left that moderates who held office in Reagan’s day, or even Bill Clinton’s, are nearly extinct. Hillary Clinton, the party’s hand-picked establishment candidate, had a hard time dispatching an avowed Socialist from the Democratic primary last year. Many Capitol Hill Democrats no longer recognize the authority of elections, the authority of public opinion or even the authority of the Constitution. Those on the hard Left believe there is no room for disagreement and even the most well-intentioned policy disputes are considered “illegitimate” and are shouted down, sometimes violently.Our nation at large is not far left or right, but moderate. Governing from either extreme is not feasible or desirable — a fact Reagan knew all too well. Within the GOP, right-wing conservatives must learn this and compromise to start the process. You are not going to get all you want, but take what you can reasonably negotiate and move on. Win small battles in the hope that those will lead to larger victories. That shows strong leadership, not compromised beliefs.The same is true in North Carolina, where entrenched social agendas cost this state millions of dollars in lost economic activity because neither side of the aisle would agree to a reasonable compromise on H.B.2, cynically preferring to preserve a divisive and destructive issue for over a year in order to raise campaign cash and motivate voters. Middle-of-the-road business leaders repeatedly pleaded with both sides to do what was best for the state’s economy, but to no avail. It wasn’t until after the campaign that an agreement was reached, long after the damage had been done.We can — and need — to do better, in Washington and in Raleigh. Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good when it comes to enacting a pro-growth agenda for America. Reagan also once said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.” Accepting a little wisdom from the Gipper these days would go a long way.Frank Dowd IV is chairman of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Company.