Vail Valley Voices: The paradox of politics
Political compromise is a process in which both parties give up something they want in exchange for something else they want more. Compromises are for the most part win-lose situations because whatever one side gets, the other side loses. In compromise situations, neither side gets all of what they really want; rather they each make concessions in order to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.
But is compromise always a good thing? Unfortunately, political compromise has at times deferred a moral issue instead than resolving it; with politicians closing their eyes to the root causes of the problem in order to treat its symptoms. And when the cause of the problem isn’t redressed there’s a high likelihood for that problem to manifest itself in an even more virulent form at some point in the future.
I wonder how many Americans are aware of a 236-year-old political compromise that caused the greatest tragedy to ever befall this nation. We learned about the Declaration of Independence in grade school, but most of us are unaware that this founding document was revised more than 40 times before its final version was approved by the Continental Congress. And perhaps the most famous revision was the deletion of the clause wherein Thomas Jefferson cited the African slave trade as an example of British oppression, to wit:
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce … ”
Jefferson was pressured to eliminate the slavery clause by delegates from Georgia and South Carolina. No one knows what would have been had this clause not been deleted, but it’s reasonable to assume that the social pattern of our nation would have been very different from what actually occurred.
Had the institution of slavery been abolished when it was comparatively easy to do so, it is likely the tragic episode of the American Civil War and its attendant ramifications and consequences (many of which remain to this day) would have been averted.
The essence of politics is compromise; and in 1776 Thomas Jefferson was forced to compromise his ideals and his good sense in order to obtain the requisite signatures on the Declaration.
While the Georgia and South Carolina delegates believed they were acting in the best interests of their region, in the long-run, slavery only served to damage the South, engender bitterness and revenge long after the Civil War ended, and deform black culture in America.
When one strips away the veneer, many fundamental political issues are in actuality moral issues, and moral issues cannot be resolved by compromise. At the same time however, society’s problems cannot be redressed without the give and take of practical compromise, which is the essence of our political process.
This then, is the terrible paradox of politics, because by its very nature politics is incapable of solving basic moral issues. Jefferson knew slavery was wrong, but as a practical matter he had no choice but to condone it, and we pay the price to this day.
All of which brings me to the healthcare debate. Yes, healthcare is a political issue, but it’s also a moral one. Is healthcare a basic human right; and if so, by whose or what authority; and if it is, why is it never mentioned in either the body of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights?
Healthcare is not of the same gravity as slavery, but it’s far too complex and important of an issue to have been treated in the manner it was by the 111th Congress. One political party bought votes, provided benefits to some constituencies at the expense of others, and the majority of decisions were made behind closed doors to the exclusion of the other party.
Perhaps we cannot work out moral issues outside the political process, but like the issue of slavery, if healthcare is not addressed by the 112th Congress as both a moral and political matter, it will come back to haunt us.
Quote of the Day: “Compromise is a good umbrella, but it makes a poor roof.” – James Russell Lowell.
(Author’s note: Attribution to Sydney Harris for his historical context.)
Butch Mazzuca is an Edwards resident and a ski instructor out of Vail Village. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org