Compromising our political ideals


Participants at the DREAM Act rally on Tuesday night. Photo contributed by Ariel Ruiz.

Heather Nichols-Haining

Compromise is the backbone of American democracy. Only by bargaining, trading votes and at least pretending to listen to the opposing party’s complaints can politicians manage to garner enough support to stay in office. The bigger the region they are representing, the more varied and diverse the opinions they must address.

We treasure compromise dearly as the end product of a perfectly-run democracy. After challenging current policies, debating heartily with people across the political spectrum and listening to experts in the field give their professional opinion, compromise is the next logical step. We treasure compromise as the obvious solution to the many varied voices that populate our nation. President Obama even went so far as to say, “A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.'” A good representative is someone who can cross the aisle and see other points of views, and less effective representatives are scoffed at for being too partisan.

Though compromise seems good at first glance, everyone can think of issues that should not be settled via compromise. When human rights and dignity are at stake, compromising simply to appeal to more people should not be the only way to garner support. The famous Compromise of 1787, which temporarily preserved both slavery and the union, is not an achievement of democracy, but a reminder of the frightening consequences of compromise. Frederick Douglass went so far as to claim, “The opposite of compromise is character.”

In the midst of the health care debate, our nation bemoaned the constant compromises which chopped away the legislation and turned it into something unrecognizable and arguably quite ineffective. Among the pieces of Obamacare that were compromised out of the legislation, abortion coverage for low income women was removed so that certain Democratic congressmen and women would support the bill. Of course if you are an anti-choice representative, this was an excellent deal, and of course Obama had to win their votes somehow. But the fact remains that we are asked as citizens to compromise on issues affecting our lives, our health, our well-being and our rights all the time.

Whether we are being asked to compromise our conception of who counts as a person as in the Three-fifths Compromise of 1787, or how far slavery should be allowed to continue, or who should be granted protection under our laws in current immigration reform debates, or which class of women should have access to abortions in the health care debate, or which corporations should be exempt from safety regulations, these are not compromises that are morally acceptable. It may be politically savvy to make these compromises, and it may bring more votes to certain politicians, and it may even be the right thing to do in a society founded upon democracy. But if our system is based on the idea that we must compromise our morality to a point where it is almost irrelevant what is right and wrong, then maybe we need to reexamine the validity of our political system.