Compromise is not a dirty word; it is the basis of our Constitution

By Vicki Hyatt | Oct 11, 2012

In my job, I get the chance to read a lot of information from multiple sources with varying slants. I read left-leaning news items, right-leaning news items, and writings that take extreme positions on either side.

My favorite nugget this week was a statement made by former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson.

As many will recall, Simpson is a former Republican from Wyoming who, along with North Carolinia Democrat Erskine Bowles,  set forth a blueprint to attack the nation’s economic challenges. The plan has not been adopted and Congress is now in a stand-off with no side appearing willing to budge. A default deficit-cutting plan known as sequestration is set to take effect in January if those in Congress still can’t find middle ground.

As Simpson puts it, because of the absence of people in the sensible center,  political partisanship could lead to a preventable  economic crisis.

I know what he means. I’ve talked to some likely voters — and candidates — who regard compromise as if it was inspired by the devil himself. It’s ironic to me that those most opposed to compromise loudly trumpet the “We the People,” and U.S. Constitution, a document that is filled with concessions.

A major point of contention on governance back in 1787 was how to preserve the power of the states yet still ensure those states with the largest number of people had a proportionate voice. That’s why we have the U.S. Senate where each state gets equal representation and the U.S. House, where the number of members is based on population as determined by a national census taken every 10 years.

A point of agreement that seems almost unimaginable now was known as the Three-Fifths Compromise. Delegates from Southern states wanted to have slaves included in the head count (but not the tax base) that would determine a state’s population base. Those in the North objected, so Constitutional Convention delegates agreed that every five slaves would be counted as three individuals when it came to establishing a state’s population count. Taxation was capped at $10 a head.

Slavery trade was another divisive issue sort of tackled by the framers of the Constitution.  Instead of immediately banning the importation and sale of slaves as Northern delegates wanted,  the delegates agreed that Congress could address the issue, but not until 1808.

There were other compromises as well, including on tariffs, the power of the states and the need to protect individual freedoms, something that would come later in the form of the Bill of Rights.

When it came to ratification, those in the nation got a chance to weigh in. The

Federalists argued a strong central government was needed to maintain the union, and the Anti-Federalists were concerned civil liberties and states’ rights could be endangered.

As the U.S. heads into the final lap of a presidential year election and “we the people” face almost endless messages from politicians telling us why their ideas are the best, let’s frame the debate in another way.

For all of us who are fed up with gridlock in our nation’s capitol and a mindset that seems to be “my way or the highway,” let’s consider which of the candidates are more likely to be statesmen who will look out for the best interest of our nation, even if it means compromising to get the job done.