Yes, some “moderates” believed in compromise to the exclusion of principle and good riddance to them. But the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. In the end, what is needed even more than compromise is the shared belief in the good intentions of both sides. This is impossible today considering the present ideological fervor that grips both parties, but is vitally necessary if an acceptable deal is to be reached that will avoid what many economists see as another recession if the country falls off the fiscal cliff.
Some of the most principled men ever to serve in Congress were also known as great compromisers. The most famous of these was Henry Clay, one of the most powerful individual congressmen who ever served. His overriding principle at all times was to save the union. To do that, he sacrificed his ambition to be president by angering his fellow southerners with the Compromise of 1850. No one much liked the bill, but it kept the union together until the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln made compromise with the “fire-eaters” in the south impossible.
Given the dearth of moderates, are there enough ideologues who will recognize the national interest and come to an agreement? Even if there are, it is doubtful the mass of partisans who make up the base of the two parties would allow them to take a single step back from positions on taxes and spending that are set in stone. Attracting the enmity of the tea party or the “reality based community” means political suicide for many members who might otherwise be inclined to support a deal. Hence, the notion that even a deal reached by the president and party leadership will probably fail when it comes to a vote in both chambers.
Perhaps it will take a calamity like another deep recession to wake us up. More likely, the partisans will spend the next 2-4 years blaming each other for something that could have been avoided in the first place if members had placed country over petty politics.