The failure of the so-called second two-party system (Whigs and Democrats) to address vexing questions during the 1840s and 1850s hastened the coming of the Civil War. Once labeled the "bumbling generation" for their inability to achieve a lasting compromise, the politicians of the ante bellum period too often pursued partisan and sectional loyalties over common sense. Notwithstanding that notable exception, the two-party system has, in actual fact, proved quite adroit at finding long-term solutions to an endless parade of crises and crossroads in the life of our nation.

However, we are currently in a period in which compromise and solution-oriented legislating seems increasingly rare and difficult. Predictions of an Impending Crisis of Civil-War magnitude are hyperbolic, but the extreme partisanship and self-interestedness of the current generation of statesmen is depressing.

The upcoming vote in the Senate on the Minimum Wage bill presents an instructive dilemma for the leadership of the Democratic Party. For years, Democrats have called for an upward adjustment in wages as a cornerstone in their program to achieve "fairness" for working people. This bill cements a healthy increase ($2.10 over three years). On the other hand, the legislation also includes a permanent reduction in the "estate tax," which Democrats have resisted just as vocally. With midterm elections drawing near, and the Democrats riding the wave of mass discontent with Republican governance, the opposition party seemed poised to organize a national campaign around the issue of the minimum wage. The dilemma: what to do now? Take the minimum-wage compromise? Or hold out for all (and risk achieving nothing) while preserving a promising wedge issue for November?

In today's Opinion Journal the WSJ editorializes:

"The bill needs 60 votes to defeat a liberal filibuster, and nearly all of the 55 Republicans are in favor. So we are about to find out if Senate Democrats are more interested in achieving the policy goals they claim to want, or merely in blow-everything-up obstruction."

This is obviously a tough call for Democrats. This will be a telling week.