Alan Greenspan called compromise on public issues “the price of civilized society, not an abrogation of principle.” Greenspan’s position is probably the result of advising and working closely with each president from Gerald Ford until George W. Bush. Yet his pragmatic approach is lost on many politicians, especially those with parties in the majority. The passage of health care reform and the present conflict in Madison, Wisconsin are sure examples of politicians using majority status as an excuse to avoid compromise.
“No compromise” is the default position almost whenever the opportunity pokes its head. Compromise is written off as politically inexpedient, weak, and unnecessary when there is a legal means to avoid it. These assumptions are inappropriate in light of our history, the Constitution’s spirit, and political reality.
On the road to passage of health care reform, Republicans were told to take a back seat. Democrats had been elected to govern, and they were going to govern. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s goal was to create a bill that would pass by one vote, not a bill that could enjoy wider bipartisan support. This, even though some Republican support may have been added by cutting out components like the individual mandate or by adding in stronger tort reforms and real pro-life protections.
Now, in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is staring-down the Democratic minority in the legislature. Senate Democrats have left the state to prevent passage of a bill that would limit the benefits and collective bargaining rights of teachers. Democrats are willing to accept some of the bill's provisions, even some that would decrease teacher take-home pay, but Democrats will not support the bill as long as it limits collective bargaining. Gov. Walker and his majority won't budge. He says that the changes are necessary to fix the state's budget crisis, a somewhat tenuous connection since we are talking about a present budget crisis and future collective bargaining rights.
In either case above, the possibility of real compromise was categorically written-off, at least publicly. This way of governing, though possible and technically constitutional, is out of step with the Framers’ intention. In Federalist 51, James Madison touted how a system of rival interests would prevent one branch of power from dominating the whole republic. In Federalist 10, he showed us how the Constitution would prevent, insofar as possible, a majority faction from controlling the whole government, which would make the protections outlined in Federalist 51 ineffectual. Taken together, Federalist 10 and 51 are persuasive because compromise was necessary to the survival of the Republic; the Framers built compromise into the system.
Compromise is sought, but not mandated. If a majority faction (the target of Federalist 10’s criticism) or party refuses to compromise, it is within its right. But exercising a technical Constitutional right is not always consistent with the spirit of the Constitution, which sought to avoid total majority rule. The positive law attempts to manifest a greater goal, where the positive law is not sufficient to bring about that goal, leaders should still abide by the goal. Leaders with majority status should not write off compromise as quickly or as casually as they do.
In his Lyceum Speech, Abraham Lincoln called attention to the insufficiency of our governmental framework alone to prevent abuse. Observing that the passion that once sustained us was now gone, Lincoln appealed to reason, reason restrained by “general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws…” We are bound to something higher than the letter of the law, higher than the structure defined by the Constitution. The same values that made the Constitution worth defending in The Federalist should be revered when the structure falls short of its goal. Compromise may not always be the solution, but compromise carries its own merit that shouldn’t be dismissed by leaders of controlling majorities like Gov. Walker, despite how much merit his proposals may have.
Political realities also warn against readily dismissing compromise. As the Democrats learned last November, a disenfranchised minority is loud and powerful. By settling on “no compromise” from the beginning, Gov. Walker limited his chances of pure victory. He may successfully limit collective bargaining for teachers, but will his victory be Pyrrhic? Voters in his traditionally left-leaning state will wonder if they want an uncompromising Republican governor. If he does not successfully limit collective bargaining rights this late in the game, then not only will he be perceived of as ineffective, but also unreasonable.
Politics is a game of practicality. That is why Lincoln, who was uncompromisingly anti-slavery as president, idolized “The Great Compromiser,” Henry Clay. It is how a student of Ayn Rand’s black-and-white-there-is-no-grey worldview can grow up to call compromise, “the price of civilized society.” Today, Gov. Walker is convinced of his cause, but his approach deserves a second guess.
David has a new post up at The American Catholic blog: "Alliance of Civilizations or Clash of Civilizations?"
"The set was simple: the facade of the house of Combernon in France: a couple of doors for entrances and exits, and some shovels and picks lined up in front — ready for manual labor. Not only drama, but also talks, discussions, and music unfolded against this silent presence, this house, which served as a visual theme uniting many diverse expressions of humanity."
Read the rest at ilsussidiario.net: A French House in New York City
Something happened in Cairo October 2010: a cultural event inspired by The Meeting in Rimini, as may be seen in the photo slideshow above. Davide Perillo describes the course of events in the #10 issue of Traces. Here's a snippet, but go read the whole account: "You Have Brightened Egypt"
The clear impression is that it is as if the very idea of 'dialogue between religions' has been swept away, leaving room for reality: people who are in dialogue precisely because they are religious–that is to say, zealous for the heart, for the question of meaning, for beauty. One distinguished man, unidentified, during a pause, began a discussion with Emilia Guarnieri: (the English is rather improbable, but the point gets through), 'You spoke of certainties and the fight against relativism; can you explain better?.' She explains, and he nods, and replies, saying something like: 'I understand. Whatever is an obstacle to man’s imagination is to be fought.' In his own way, he sounds like Fr. Giussani when he speaks of 'the category of possibility,' which keeps reason open to the Mystery. Another point made by an Egyptian friend and highlighted was: 'We are looking at things with your eyes.'
The final concert was an apotheosis of what we have in common and of what distinguishes us. The Schubert Trio and classical music inside the walls of Saladin’s Citadel: all eager to hear beauty (Brahms, Paganini, and Dvorak), many ready to acknowledge that it is only a relation of the other music, played by the Sama’a group the previous evening: Eastern chorales and polyphony entwined with 'our' melodies. They, too, are beautiful, but different, without that note of melancholy that echoes, so to speak, in the 2nd movement of Schubert’s Trio, presented as 'one of the pieces that Fr. Giussani loved most.' At this point, we realize how often that name has been quoted continually over these days, on the stage and off it, in both Italian and Arabic speeches, and how alive Fr. Giussani still is, present more than ever.
The editorial in the same issue of Traces notes the remarkable contours of this event:
"For two days, there were assemblies and exhibitions, a demonstration of earthly beauty as the basis for a dialogue, in an Islamic country. It was organized by Muslims, people who live their tradition deeply, but who were struck by a friendship with those who live Christianity deeply, making it flesh and blood–that is, culture."
Although I haven't seen The Meeting in Cairo or The Meeting in Rimini, I will have the opportunity to see the American edition of The Meeting: The New York Encounter. It's happening January 14-17. The presentations are free and open to the public — I hope to see you there!
"While Jonas watched, the people began one by one to untie the ribbons on the packages, to unwrap the bright papers, open the boxes and reveal toys and clothing and books. There were cries of delight. They hugged one another.
The small child went and sat on the lap of the old woman, and she rocked him and rubbed her cheek against his" (The Giver, Lois Lowrey, 123).
"The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why" ( G.K. Chesterton in Generally Speaking, via Quaerere Deum via gkchestertonquote).
"there is a way of being together that is not Christian communion. And what is the clearest indication of this? That it does not liberate us, that there is no liberation; that is, it is not Communion and Liberation. Fr. Giussani told us that this happens due to a lack of memory, due to a lack of existential depth in the awareness of belonging. [...] When St. Paul says, 'Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me,' he defines exactly the content of the new self-awareness. Without this new awareness, there is no Christian communion, because we are not letting into our life the gaze that made us become part of this communion." (Living is The Memory of Me, 54).
May you live Christmas and the Christmas season filled with the memory of Christ!