Tuesday, January 8, 2013

You Cannot Compromise Principles

I've always had a hard time with the concept of compromise when it comes to government. For reasons I could never really define, I was uneasy by the concept that you should accept something you fundamentally did not agree with in order to obtain something you wanted, or in the case of government, in return for a promise to vote for something you wanted in the future.

Of course I would always be told that government was all about compromise and look at how the Founding Fathers had to compromise in order to write the Constitution. Still, it did not make any sense to me and despite this "explanation", it didn't seem right.

Recently I came across the writings of Ayn Rand and things started to become clearer.  In regards to compromise, the following quotes struck home for me:
"It is only in regard to concretes or particulars, implementing a mutually accepted basic principle, that one may compromise. For instance, one may bargain with a buyer over the price one wants to receive for one’s product, and agree on a sum somewhere between one’s demand and his offer. The mutually accepted basic principle, in such case, is the principle of trade, namely: that the buyer must pay the seller for his product. But if one wanted to be paid and the alleged buyer wanted to obtain one’s product for nothing, no compromise, agreement or discussion would be possible, only the total surrender of one or the other."
"In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit."
To me this made perfect sense to me.  It helped me realize that it was on principles where I did not want to accept that compromise was valid.  Pretty much every issue in government, major ones at any rate, involve principles.  So for example, if on principle you believe it is wrong for the government to use its coercive power to redistribute wealth from one segment of the population to another, then it would be immoral  and evil to do anything that increases the burden of taxes as this would be compromising your basic principles.
  On the other hand, on issues where there is not a difference on basic principle, national defense for example (at least I hope everyone in government agrees we have a right to protect our interests), it is perfectly moral to compromise (to a point) on how to go about that task, how much to spend and how to fund it and so forth.

Unfortunately it appears that government today is all about compromising on both details and principle and the mainstream media agrees, and tends to support the view of the Democrats.  In this week's Time magazine there is an article, "Cliff Dweller" by Michael Grunwald which has the following quote:
"if Senate Republicans had decided to work with Obama in his first term instead of fighting him, they could have helped shape Obamacare and other Democratic legislation."
 So apparently the feeling in the media, and I think in large parts of the population, is that the Republicans should compromise their principles and go along with the Democrat agenda to help "shape" the legislation. In the case of Obamacare, this is essentially saying that if Republicans are opposed on principle to allowing the Federal government to compel citizens to purchase a product, they should set aside that principle and work with those feel it is proper for the government to do so.  To do so is not a compromise, but an abdication of your principles.

Sadly, I don't believe many Republican members of Congress actually hold the principles they claim to hold.  As one example, the individual mandate in Obamacare has roots on the Republican side.  One need only take a glance at this article on Fox News to see it has a long history of Republican support. In the final debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama, my main impression was there was no principle difference between the two in many areas.  Many of Romney's answers appeared to me to be variations on "I agree with the President, but I think I can do it better."  So it is merely the details, not the underlying principles, that they differed on.

It should be obvious that most members of Congress hold the same statist and altruistic principles, though the details vary.   Very few would argue for reducing and eventually eliminating the welfare/regulatory state we live in, only how to fund it and run it more efficiently (i.e. look at the expansion of regulation under Sarbanes-Oxley which had no dissenting votes in the Senate and only 3 in the House).  Even Paul Ryan's so-called "radical" budget plan doesn't cut government spending, rather it simply slows the growth so that the budget will balance, at a higher level, in 20 years or so.

The main difference between the two parties is that the Democrats present a more consistent message of these principles.  They openly state that it is the government's job to provide cradle to the grave economic security for everyone and take whatever steps required to achieve that whether that be higher taxes, banning large soft drinks, compelling companies to provide nutrition labels and so forth.  The Republicans tend to say the opposite, talking of personal freedom and individual rights, while pursuing many of the same goals.

I think one final quote from Ayn Rand perfectly sums up how we have arrived at the situation we find ourselves in as a country:
Consider a few rules about the working of principles in practice and about the relationship of principles to goals . . . .
  1.     In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.
  2.     In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.
  3.     When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.

1 comment:

  1. There you go again, introducing common sense into a political debate. :/