What’s wrong with compromise?February 17, 2012
Last week, I promised to start dedicating my Friday posts to issues involving social ethics. For my first post in this series, I want to challenge the popular notion that the best way to address a problem is by “fighting” for a solution. This isn’t just an abstract point. If you listen to the ads supporting the various candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, you’ll hear again and again that each candidate will “fight” for Republican voters. And it’s not just the GOP that’s into “fighting” mode. Once the Repbulican candidate has been selected, I guarantee that both he and President Obama will run ads promising to “fight” for the American people against the demon du jour.
So I have to ask: what’s so noble about fighting? And why has compromise become such a dirty word?
Somehow, we seem to have gotten the idea that principled people can only take hard-line positions, and that anyone who compromises has somehow abdicated the high road. That certainly seems to be the way things go in Congress these days. Any legislator who agrees to meet opponents halfway can count on taking a beating on the grounds that she’s “flipflopped” or failed to stand up for what he believes in. Trouble is, when people who are elected to solve problems each retreat to the ends of their respective political spectra and dig in their heels, nothing gets done. Situations deteriorate, fingers start pointing, ugly accusations get made, and the common good goes unprotected.
By contrast, when political opponents compromise and cooperate, great things can get done. For example, the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society have long been at loggerheads over the size of the cages that industrial egg farms use. HSUS has long argued that the cramped cages are inhumane, while the egg industry insisted that small cages kept their costs down. The two sides could have kept fighting – and paying their lobbyists – for decades. Instead, HSUS and the United Egg Producers met together and agreed to propose legislation that would replace the tiny, traditional cages with more comfortable facilities over a period of fifteen years. Did either side get everything it wanted? No, but they both got enough of what they wanted to be able to present federal lawmakers with a single, reasonable proposal. If the law passes, real progress will have been made without leaving either side defeated, bitter and looking for payback.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a mistake to yield on points of fundamental principle. But I also think it’s wrong to demonize people whose reasonable opinions differ from mine, or to insist on getting everything if it means leaving someone else with nothing. There’s nothing noble about acheiving victory by beating the heck out of somebody else. Instead of electing representatives who promise to fight for our values, how about choosing people who promise to work cooperatively to achieve the best result for everyone concerned? We can keep fighting amongst ourselves, or we can look for ways to cooperate. So, folks, how do we really want to live?
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