Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Compromise is Not a Four Letter Word

Genesis 41:37-44 (New Living Translation)

37 “Joseph's suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his advisers. 38As they discussed who should be appointed for the job, Pharaoh said, “Who could do it better than Joseph? For he is a man who is obviously filled with the spirit of God.” 39Turning to Joseph, Pharaoh said, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, you are the wisest man in the land! 40I hereby appoint you to direct this project. You will manage my household and organize all my people. Only I will have a rank higher than yours.”
41And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” 42Then Pharaoh placed his own signet ring on Joseph's finger as a symbol of his authority. He dressed him in beautiful clothing and placed the royal gold chain about his neck. 43Pharaoh also gave Joseph the chariot of his second-in-command, and wherever he went the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Joseph was put in charge of all Egypt. 44And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am the king, but no one will move a hand or a foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”

Well, the deal has been struck. There will be no filibuster on three of George Bush’s judicial nominees. The people’s business will once again, after a nasty hiatus, be moved forward. How did fourteen senators find an avenue of compromise? Part IIA of the memorandum of understanding’s language they drafted relies heavily on trust and good will, a commodity in short supply these days in Washington. I believe it’s the most sensible, the most Godly way, to finally end this crisis:

A. Future Nominations Signatories will exercise their responsibilities (my emphasis added) under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United State Constitution in good faith (my emphasis added). Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgement (my emphasis added) in determining whether such circumstances exist.”

The agreement has, of course, fueled pundits on the left and the right about the correctness of the deal. On the right, Neil Boortz had this to say:

“But let's talk more about the Republicans. They had total and complete victory in their hands, and they gave it up. Would the Democrats do that? Of course not! Democrats play for keeps. They know that when you have your opponent on the ropes, you don't feel sorry for them, worry about their "minority rights" and offer them something they're not entitled to. You put your foot on their throat and defeat them by the widest margin of victory possible. The Republicans gained seats in the Senate in the last election. They defeated the sitting Democratic leader over this very issue. They should have voted to change the rules on the first day of business back in January. Now that they have the votes, it should have been simple. Slam the door on the Democrats obstruction, just as voters elected them to do. Reverse the rolls here. How many of you really believe that the Democrats wouldn't have changed the Senate rules if it had been Republicans filibustering Democratic nominees?”

On the left, E.J. Dionne made this observation:

“The deal is not perfect. There are grounds to worry that the federal judiciary will be dominated at the end of the Bush years by a certain style of conservative -- Janice Rogers Brown is representative -- ready to roll back the New Deal jurisprudence of the last 70 years. Many who buy this legal approach preach that federal rules on wages and hours, environmental and business regulation, should be overturned by courts that would use 19th-century standards to void Washington's capacity to create rational standards for a complex 21st-century economy. Stopping such a judicial takeover would justify filibusters.”

I guess what I’m taking away from all of this is that the fire-eaters are about the only ones who are unhappy about this. And, I don’t for the life of me understand why. What is so bad about compromise in this case, anyway? And, why is it that so many conservative Christians fail to see the value of compromise?

In this case I’ve actually found myself aligned with the Washington Post:

“The deal is admittedly messy. Some nominees get votes, some still don't; the principle isn't terribly clear. It isn't specified what constitutes "extraordinary circumstances"; the members have to trust in one another's good faith. But the deal is far better than the alternative.”

There is ample Biblical warrant for finding avenues of compromise. Good will and trust must prevail for the sake of the entire American community, which includes believers and non-believers, Democrats and Republicans, liberals, conservatives, centrists, men and women, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists. I read Romans twelve and it seems so evident that I find it difficult to understand why so many of my “fellows” can’t see it:

Romans 12:16-18 (New Living Translation)

16 “Live in harmony with each other. Don't try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!
17Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.”

There are two things that are driving this madness. First, for far too many conservatives, particularly Christians, and for as many liberals, again Christians, there is a heavy reliance on dogma and power rather than grace and unity. The result has been that politics, which should be an arena where all are represented, has become more and more polarized, with both sides seemingly determined to lock the other out. If the situation with the filibusters had been allowed to continue spinning out of control or if the “nuclear option” had been used there would be absolute chaos right now in the halls of congress. Some might think that this gridlock would be a good thing, but I don’t. At a time when we’re engaged in a war on terror, at a time when programs like social security need to be fixed, at a time when China is flexing its economic muscle against us, at a time when North Korea and Iran are on the brink of joining the nuclear family, it would be foolhardy to continue to act in such an adversarial manner. We are countrymen and we need each other. The name of the game here shouldn’t be about who can maintain power; it should be about who is willing to serve the interests of all Americans.

I’m afraid that political power has corrupted both the left and the right in this sordid political chapter. The left is now determined to either regain power or render the process meaningless with endless filibusters. The right seems every bit as determined to keep the power it has gained in the past ten years, willing to use the “nuclear option” to maintain their tight grip on the reins. We, the citizenry, are caught in the middle of this foolish game. Monday night’s compromise, at least temporarily, has restored some sanity to the process.

The second thing that is driving this is that Christian communities, both left and right, are relying far too heavily on the persuasive power of “superheroes” who have little or nothing to do with the household of faith. For many Christian conservatives, Rush Limbaugh and other pundits seem to have replaced Holy Writ and Jesus Himself as the center of faith, belief, and practice. And it’s no different on the left. There are the disciples of Molly Ivins or some other anointed “guru” there as well.

Sadly, even within the Christian community's pantheon of superheroes there are marked divisions. For every James Dobson on the right there’s a Jim Wallis on the left.

The compromise reached Monday will, for the time being, bring some civility back into the political process. To those on the left and right of the temporal equation this compromise probably seems like an empty gesture. This is due in large part to the fact that they have no inclination to trust anyone whose politics differs from theirs. I believe they’re dead wrong. I further believe that the fourteen who struck the deal saw the need for trust and good will to prevail. And, I honestly believe they’re the ones who are right. This society cannot make any progress without trust and good will.

As Christians, we should understand and embrace this principle. By so doing, we will not be abandoning our faith, nor will we be forsaking Biblical mandates for life and living. We’ll simply be living by the principle of living in harmony, which is sanctioned by Almighty God. It’s the same principle that strengthened Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. If these men, our ancestors, could thrive, by God’s grace, in these hostile cultures, I believe we can in ours as well. In fact, I believe we must!


Anonymous said...

Well at least this will ensure that Senator McCain is out of the running for the nomination in 08. The majority of Republicans will look at this as a betrayal by their elected leaders. EVERY one of the nominees deserves an up or down vote. Period.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

The single real danger in any compromise is lessening the effect of Principle in the decision. Principle does equip the human family with the ability to anticipate consequences over mere desire: vision. We will soon, very soon, see the results of this compromise. (A 10-letter word.)

It appears that humanistic opinion and fear, or perceived advantage, are the ruling reason for most political harmony; not loyalty to transcendent criteria.

Some of us still remember the classic attempt at harmony that brought on World War II: viz a viz Chamberlain-Hitler. Good intentions, sure. Harmony...?

Those who are blind are unknowingly depending on those with light to maintain vision and quality. When those with vision compromise for lesser light we all move further into the darkness of this Age. How can we know? Criteria, criteria, criteria. Where? The Creator's opinion - The Word. "There is no private interpretation of Scripture!" (Neither Daniel or Joseph compromised principle.)

Some folks always take a middle position on everything -- thinking it is the safest and least contrary place to be.

Try this: "If you are neither hot nor cold I will spue you out of my mouth!"

Hot is preferable... We'll see.

Brad Todd said...

They compromised away the chance to replace the liberal activist judges on the Supreme Court with judges that would respect the law and the Constitution...

It was a sell-out, America is the loser..As with Christian faith, compromise is never a good thing when you're dealing with the devil.

Anonymous said...

Its' very, very rare that I comment on a Conservative blog, but I had just had to compliment you on this post.

It warms my heart to see someone at least trying to reach out to the other side- something I admittedly rarely do any more.

Looking at your links, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything we agree on, but your post is gracious, and I hope a lot of people read it.

Allan said...

Gracious or not Phil, the Dems just proved their mettle, or lack of it. After apparently promising to deliver enough Dem votes to pass a motion for cloture of debate on the Bolton nomination, Reid reneged and the vote fell short by 3 or 4 votes.

Reid had the gall to say that this is not a filibuster, only a request for further information. Right, and I have some swamp land I'll sell you at a good price.