Thankful For Compromise

Benjamin Franklin, as most everyone knows on this Thanksgiving Day, preferred that strange creature the turkey over that “Bird of bad moral Character,” the cowardly Bald Eagle who “does not get his Living honestly.” The turkey was a “much more respectable Bird,” a “Bird of Courage,” said Franklin.

A “turkey” today, of course, can mean a “failure,” a “flop,” as in “Our Congress is a turkey.”

As we find ways to be thankful today, it may be hard to give thanks for a political system that has produced the dysfunction and stalemate we see in Washington, D.C.  It does appear to many Americans that in some fundamental way, the system is broken and in serious need of repair—a turkey.

But it really isn’t the architecture of our political system that is the problem. It is the ideological madness in the minds of those—mostly conservative Republicans—in Washington, who believe that unless they get their way, there is no other way to move, no other way to function. 

That madness nearly had its way this past summer during the debt-ceiling “debate,” in which there were more than a few lost souls who would have rather seen the country lose its credit worthiness and prestige than bend enough to preserve the trust inherent in our unique American history.

As for that word “debate,” as applied to what has been happening in our nation’s capital, let’s go to Merriam-Webster again:

de-bate  noun

b : a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides

The debate over our fiscal distress was not, is not, “a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.” A regulated discussion implies that both sides will adhere to a certain understanding of the parameters of the discussion, that both sides know that one may go this far but not that far.

No such understanding prevails upon many on the right-wing today, those many now controlling a once-great political institution. One might expect that two patriotic parties arguing over even the most important political point can agree in the end that no harm should come to the thing they both ostensibly are fighting for—the country.  But because of its institutional sickness, because of its unbending fealty to a philosophy that has had and still has multiple flaws, serious doubts exist about the Republican Party’s willingness to do no harm to our homeland.

All of which reminded me of something written by Brit-turned-American Alistair Cooke, who was describing his early schooling in 1920s England, which included “the airing of differences in a public debate as a routine procedure of ordinary education“:

My history master explained the larger value of all this by pointing to diplomacy—the peaceful resolution of weighty matters—as the supreme form of debating.

This idea of diplomacy, as Cooke discovered, “is astonishingly recent.” And its value should not be taken for granted, on this Thanksgiving Day or any other day we thankfully live as Americans.

Cooke wrote this powerful passage*:

Meditating on the long and cynical history of European diplomacy, from the early Venetians on, Americans will leap with pride to the reminder that theirs is a nation created in a seventeen-week debate. Certainly, the records of the Constitutional Convention amount to a triumph of civilized discourse. And if there is one figure more than another who comes out of the Philadelphia convention as a shining exemplar of the magnanimous debater, it is that of Alexander Hamilton, who lost many of the causes dear to his heart and mind, and then sat down to compose a series of brilliantly persuasive essays urging the adoption of articles of government he had hated.

Those persuasive essays were, of course, the Federalist Papers. And check your pulse if you are not patriotically thrilled by the idea of Alexander Hamilton—who “lost many of the causes dear to his heart and mind”—embracing a nearly unparalleled enthusiasm for a new American political system born of compromise, even if some of those compromises are now painful to recall.

Of that same Hamilton, the right-wing Conservapedia says he “was one of the most important, and most conservative and nationalistic, of the Founding Fathers of the United States.” 

Maybe. But it cannot be denied that he would not feel welcome in the modern Republican Party, a party that, for the moment at least, eschews the kind of compromises that made possible our beloved America.


* From, “Introduction: A Difference of Opinion,” in William F. Buckley’s On The Firing Line: The Public Life of our Public Figures.


  1. This is an excellent post, one I wish everyone would read!


  2. Well said. What a shame that our current representatives in Washington feel more allegiance to their parties (and a certain lobbyist) than to the nation and Constitution they swore to defend.


    • I couldn’t agree more. Grover Norquist has done, and is doing, more harm to the country, in the long run, than he gets national credit for.



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