The aphorism concerning politics as the art of the possible is a real-world take on the general inevitability of compromise in the shaping of legislation. When two sides hammer at each other persistently enough, there tends to occur a receding on both sides from first principles. Better to get something done than nothing, right? "Better to get it done right" happens to be the right answer -- one that conservatives failed to utter with sufficient persistence during the health care debate (such as it was) of 2009-10.
The idea isn't to find the exact middle ground. The idea is to define the main idea -- more or less regulation, more or less spending -- in such a way that it prevails in the end, as did ObamaCare, for all the administration's ungainly efforts to explain why we were supposed to do things its way.
The opening of the new Congress provides Republicans with an interesting opportunity, namely, to take a few fundamental principles, among them human freedom, and explain -- not worrying about being called "right-wing" or just "nuts" -- why those principles should prevail.
To go into such a discussion expecting to shed half your principles for the sake of being patted on the head by the media and referred to as "reasonable" or "responsible" defeats a central purpose of politics, namely, to demonstrate the worth and desirability of idea A over idea B.
The president whose 100th birthday we mark on Feb. 6 -- Ronald Reagan -- knew the limits imposed by practical politics. He had goals nonetheless. His idea was to march as far toward those goals as possible -- to pause, if he had to, but then to keep going and then to know when he arrived.
It's one of many reasons a largely grateful electorate marks his 100th birthday.