Compromises of Power

I’ve recently noticed a trend – or maybe it’s always been there – in various reviews, both of my books and others, of a view of ethics by reviewers that seems to believe that compromises to power and reality are always sell-outs.

Unhappily, this view has also dominated U.S. politics for at least the last decade, if not longer. The far right wants to ban all abortions all the time; the far left wants no restrictions on abortion. Polls show that the majority of Americans want something in the middle, roughly along the lines of Roe v. Wade. But the battle lines remain.

For years, Congress has been stalled on issues dealing with climate reform, a better IRS system, the high cost of prescription drugs, getting wealthy corporations to pay taxes, and the need to reduce health insurance costs for poorer families.

In early 2021, the President proposed a $3 trillion program to address such problems. The Republicans’ counter was to say that they were opposed to all of it, despite the problems. For a year and a half, the Democrats, despite having control of Congress, if only by one vote in the Senate, couldn’t agree on anything.

Once the Democrats realized that only by compromising among themselves could they get anything done did they finally pass the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which everyone should know won’t do all it promises. No one got all of what they wanted. Did that mean that the Democrats lost their ethics? Or did it mean that they did the best they could?

As for the Republicans, their “ethical” position was that they’d oppose anything. Most likely, if they’d really agreed to compromise, the final legislation would have been better. But they opposed compromise.

But what too many people tend to ignore, forget, or fail to acknowledge is that getting almost anything done in government requires compromise, not getting all that you think necessary, and having to accept things you think are unnecessary or even wrong.

Accepting compromise doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost your ethics. It may mean that your opponents have more votes and/or power. And for those who refuse compromise, especially when not acting means people will suffer, it suggests that some people believe so highly in their view of what’s ethical that they’d rather have people suffer or die than do what they think is “unethical.” And what does that say about their “ethics”?

4 thoughts on “Compromises of Power”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    For compromise to happen, let’s see something a LOT smaller than trillions proposed and far lower in pork, that does not only advance liberties one side values while stomping on those they disparage. That would be centrist, which I gather is the point (not just doing SOMETHING; sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something that’s mostly wrong or wasteful, although it doesn’t make nearly as good a sound bite). Not nearly enough, but a start. Let’s also see at least 50% as much effort in cutting red tape and cutting spending as there is in new red tape and new spending, regardless of what justification may be proposed for more spending and authoritarianism.

    Of course one thing missed is that perhaps both sides WANT their opponents to be easy to characterize as extreme; it’s said that Democrats supported Republican primary candidates they thought would be easiest to demonize. But the left provides every bit as much foot in mouth as ever Trump’s tweets did, so a saying about glass houses comes to mind.

    1. Mayhem says:

      It doesn’t matter who is in power, pork barrel politics is an inherent part of the system as designed in the US – your incumbency rate (98%!) is so high the politicians are effectively there for life unless they do something absolutely egregiously bad. And both houses are filled with smaller committees that run on a seniority basis, meaning if you don’t funnel pork to the senior people, your deal is dead in the water.
      Have a deal that touches enough committees, and you’ll double or triple your spending requirements without ever changing the actual amounts where the tyres meet the road.

  2. Darcherd says:

    While I can understand the position of a “small government Republican” as R. Hamilton apparently is, the current “Trump Republican” party managed to have the spending and accompanying deficit balloon while that administration was in power at a pace that would have made a Democrat proud. Of course, that deficit rise was partly due to the generous tax break given to the wealthy and corporations.

    But the fact remains that there are a number of politicians on both ends of the political spectrum who do appear to regard any sort of compromise as a defeat. I’m thinking specifically of people like Ted Cruz on the Republican side and ACO on the Democratic one. I once saw ‘politics’ defined as ‘the art of governing without people killing each other,’ and that alternative should be a sobering one for all concerned.

  3. Ryan Patrick Jackson says:

    I don’t disagree with the issue for the most part.

    But the flaw is that ethics are very subjective. When you combine that with there being certain moral event horizon lines you get into the weeds.

    Like, We can all agree, murder is bad. There’s no compromise there.

    But We clearly don’t agree on the best way to set up Health Care. With one side wanting full Government support and the other side wanting to let private insurance continue. There can be compromise sure, because gradual improvement can work.

    But what happens when the data shows that gradual won’t help and the choice is either fight or it’s lost? And what happens when the line for that is blurry?

    We can gradually fix healthcare, because while the current system is still killing and hurting people every improvement helps someone and does some good.

    But what do we do when the stance is litterally inhumane treatment vs not? People might debate the line on Pro Choice arguments, but when one side says we have to just accept a 10 year old SA victim having to “See the opportunity” in being forced to risk their lives and then raise a child before they’ve even had their own childhood.

    No, there’s no compromise here, there’s no middle ground where that’s sort of alright. It’s one side wanting to control people and the other side saying no, you have to let people make their own choices.

    You are 100% correct though in that often Compromise is just the result of not having enough power. Casual Speculation, what would 2016-2000 have looked like if Rhennthyl existed with his abilities in the real world? (And interested in the US since, you know, he firebombed the equivalent of the US in his story) I can’t help but imagine there’d have been several mysterious deaths through 2016, a different president (Not saying Clinton automatically, just different).

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