Last weekend, my wife and I saw the movie “Lincoln.” It depicts the passage of the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery at the end of the Civil War. Prior to seeing the film, I hadn’t thought much about the political wrangling needed to pass such an important omission from the U.S. Constitution. Morally, it seems as if it should have flown through without a “no” vote, but the movie clearly shows otherwise.

The strongest abolitionists had to make significant compromises in order to avoid scaring away less committed supporters. Some representatives received bribes, and others went through intense pressure from the President and his operatives. The movie also depicts the moral challenge of deciding whether ending slavery justified extending the war.

One lesson I took from the film is how vastly different the political process is from a typical corporate decision. It is messier and more public. People don’t like to compromise until the last moment and lots of effort is made to sway a few representatives one way or the other.

As a present day comparison, the “fiscal cliff” situation will likely involve a messy resolution. How do we know if progress is being made on this important issue? Here are a few benchmarks that indicate our government may be headed toward a compromise:

  • If both parties start discussing the ratios of revenue increases and spending cuts, which means both sides are moving away from strongly held positions.
  • If the Republicans propose multiple revenue increases that aren’t tax increases, such as the limit to the mortgage deduction that has been floated recently.
  • If the President or Senate Democrats propose increasing taxes on high earners by less than the full amount. This allows both parties to claim victory.
  • If key conservatives and liberals start relaxing their rhetoric and speak towards the need for a joint resolution.

Whether these keys are right or not remains to be seen. But if you focus on them, at least you can get the information you need by reading just a few newspaper articles a week instead of watching the blow-by-blow on cable news. Given the amount of time you save, perhaps you can catch a movie. I highly recommend “Lincoln!”