Havel reached out to touch a glass dish given to him by Obama, inscribed with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “It is only a minor compromise,” he said. “But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.”
Our president would be well advised to listen. Havel is looking at this not only as a moral champion but as a playwright. Obama (who, as Robert Draper wrote, has read and reread Shakespeare’s tragedies) does not want his fatal flaw to be that he compromises so much that his ideals get blurred out of recognition.
As Leon Wieseltier writes in the upcoming New Republic: “The demotion of human rights by the common-ground presidency is absolutely incomprehensible. The common ground is not always the high ground. When it is without end, moreover, the search for common ground is bad for bargaining. It informs the other side that what you most desire is the deal — that you will never acknowledge the finality of the difference, and never be satisfied with the integrity of opposition. There is a reason that ‘uncompromising’ is a term of approbation.”
F.D.R. asked to be judged by the enemies he had made. But what of a president who strives to keep everyone in some vague middle ground of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, without ever offending anyone?