In addition to her duties representing the University, Penn President Amy Gutmann will be releasing a new book next month, entitled The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It.
On May 2, Gutmann and her co-author, Harvard University professor Dennis Thompson, will join NBC correspondent and 1967 College graduate Andrea Mitchell at the National Constitution Center. The three will discuss the book and its focus on how the United States can overcome political gridlock to achieve compromise and progress.
Gutmann sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian to share her thoughts on the upcoming release of the book.
Daily Pennsylvanian: What motivated you and your co-author to write this new book?
Amy Gutmann: We observed that there is a huge amount of campaigning going on in American politics, more than in recent history, and it is to the detriment of governing. It has gotten so extensive that it’s becoming harder and harder to govern by compromise. There’s a puzzle that I’ve long been fascinated by, and so is my-co author, which is: how are people who disagree very strongly in democracy able to govern themselves? The answer to the puzzle has been constitutional democracy in this country — compromising by making laws that move us forward — and that answer has been threatened by the permanent campaigning.
Every day is effectively Election Day. You don’t campaign by compromising, you campaign by standing tenaciously on principles and inspiring your base to support you and defeating your opponents. You govern by adjusting your principles, so you move in the direction of your principles and you don’t achieve them all at once. By cooperating with your opponents, you have to — instead of defeating them — respect them enough to craft compromises with them.
DP: What are the challenges of undertaking a project like writing a book while still fulfilling your responsibilities as Penn’s president?
AG: It took me more years to write my next book than it would have had I not been president of Penn. But at the same time, everything that Penn stands for, going back to our founder Benjamin Franklin, is consistent with what this book is about — which is putting knowledge into public service. So I felt that this was an opportunity … It was great to have a co-author who I’ve collaborated with before as a partner in writing it. It’s also wonderful to have the internet and email to be able to circulate drafts back and forth — we both went over every word and every sentence of the book.
DP: How has your political philosophy evolved since publishing your previous books? What perspective has your position as Penn’s president given you in this regard?
AG: I don’t think that my political philosophy has changed significantly, but the problems that challenge us have changed over time. It’s only over the last several decades that we’ve seen this incredible problem of having every day be Election Day, so it’s a challenge to any political philosophy.
It makes me feel all the more privileged to be president of Penn because we … have some ability to rise above that culture. But at the same time, we’re affected by it. I tell students all the time that it’s really important to get involved and engaged in politics and civic life. If you’re not, it’s still going to affect your life. … And therefore, I feel responsibility, given my scholarly expertise, to speak out on this. Do I have the answers? No. But do I think I have a reasonable diagnosis of the problem? Yes — and I think people need to understand the problem before they solve it.
DP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AG: Ultimately it’s going to be citizens in this country who make the difference of moving this country forward and breaking the gridlock in Washington. You cannot expect politicians to do it if citizens aren’t supporting them doing the right thing. I think Penn students get that, and I want to encourage them to get involved, whether they get involved academically or politically…. Use your talents and expertise to make a difference in our civic life and our political life.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.