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The Art of Compromise
You have to know what you want and what you believe.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 12, 2005

Those of us with a social vision and a desire for better political arrangements, have to work out the means to get from where we are, to where we want to be. This is not easy, as compromise can go one direction or another, your way or the other way.

This is the dilemma for officeholder facing re-election. There are no perfect bills, and one old saying is that making laws is like making sausage; you don't want to know what goes into it. (Of course, the difference here is that good sausage is both theoretically possible and a practical reality.) But the officeholder can at least work for things he believes in. He can compromise, which is necessary, or he can sell out. Compromising means getting some of what you want; selling out means violating one's stated principles for the sake of keeping the office.

Two examples about are seen in the Republican Party in the past few decades. Ronald Reagan developed the reputation, both as governor of California and as President of the United States, for setting priorities, fighting for what he wanted, accepting what he could get, and coming back the next day to fight again. At one of the lower points in American history and facing a Democratic House of Representatives, he led the way for massive tax cuts and tremendous increases in defense spending. He did compromise on social spending which led to high budget deficits. But then, that was not a high priority; he sacrificed fiscal policy to move his security and economic agenda forward. He gave in on what he thought were the least important points.

Since Reagan's Presidency, and especially since George W. Bush has been President, Republicans have done little despite their dominance. It is always a "wait until after the next election" for the conservative revolution to commence. Except Bush's "conservatism" doesn't resemble Reagan's or Goldwater's conservatism at all. After fighting for balanced budgets and eliminating programs during the Clinton Administration, Congressional Republicans with the President's blessing have spent, spent, and spent some more. In addition, under the guise of fighting a "War on Terror" the national Police State and Warfare State have grown tremendously. Perhaps not since the Civil War have a people lost so much freedom in so little time.

In a time of war, those who call themselves "conservative" are inclined not to compromise, but to sell out. Support the President, support the Party, get re-elected by helping the President get re-elected. Even if in just ten short years that means going from wanting to see the federal Department of Education abolished, to voting for increased federal control over our schools. Even if it means voting for measures, such as an internal passport (or "REAL ID") that would have rightly been condemned if a Democratic President wanted it. The Republican Party has devoured conservatism, not advanced it.

Even if we disagree with what Reagan fought for, and even if his reputation for principled compromise, of accepting half the loaf, is overrated, this should be the role model.

The foundations of my political philosophy is a love for peace, privacy, and economic liberty. But from there, choices have to be made. Peace is the end; what are the means?

There could be "peace through strength" - deterrence. Or there could be peace through demobilization. Peace through collective security, or peace through neutrality. Peace through international cooperation via the United Nations, or peace through withdrawing from the United Nations. Peace through making liberal democracies everywhere, or peace through non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries.

Protecting and advancing privacy and the private life also carries problems. I yearn for a society in which it wasn't anybody's business what you ate and drank, what drugs you took, who you took as friends and lovers, what books you read, and how many guns you owned. It would be clear from this that I would not support laws against, say, sodomy. But does that mean I should endorse the federal Supreme Court's repeal of state sodomy laws, an act that had no support from the Constitution? I would oppose a National ID, but should there be any means of identifying illegal immigrants and potential terrorists? I would support equal treatment and protection under the law, but is there no room there for profiling? Is there any individual right that is absolute and inviolable?

And then there is economic liberty. A person has the right to make as much money (honestly, of course) as he can. But is ownership in land an absolute right? Would competition from countries that use political prisoners as factory workers be "free trade?" Does free trade require open borders? Are there "public goods" or "natural monopolies" that only the State can provide? Are the lower tariffs from international free trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO worth the price of added regulations and loss of sovereignty?

Some of these questions are more easily answered than others. But it is also easy to see where compromise can be reached. I would prefer very steep cuts in defense spending, but would accept less-steep cuts if we abandon our policy of intervention and nation-building. After all, "peace through strength" is possible; "peace through war" is not. And I would accept the existence of some antiquated blue laws in some of our states and localities, if it also meant less federal law enforcement . After all, the federal government can not be protecting our individual rights if it is watching our every move. And I would even accept, as inevitable, taxes and wasteful government spending, if regulations and other barriers to trade were lightened. After all, a nation can not prosper through punishing its people for making money.

In politics, it is impossible to get everything you want. But if you know what you want, if you know what you believe, you will know when to bend and when to stand firm.

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country (

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