Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why political compromise should inspire hope for 2013

From America's founding and onward, cooperation helped create a nation the envy of the world

2012 was a year of many things. We saw a man sky dive higher than anyone has ever jumped. We survived a few “end of the world” events, including the latest “scare” of the Mayan calendar. Technology in the palm of our hands grew, and our hearts swelled at the catastrophic events our minds could never have imagined.

Politically speaking, 2012 was a strange and frustrating year, one that encompassed contempt from the people for their lawmakers -- but specifically, disdain for the uncooperative among them.

The political winners of 2012 were mostly Democratic -- President Barack Obama cruised to re-election, Senate Democrats grew their majority, and Congressional Democrats took over many seats in the House that were lost in 2010. While most state governments remained Republican, much of that is attributed towards conservative gerrymandering -- even in Wisconsin, where the Assembly remained in GOP hands, more people in the state voted for Democratic candidates than Republican ones.

Yet even in winning, Democrats aren’t truly victors -- there remains to be a lot of work ahead, and plenty of challenges for lawmakers to face in the coming months, if not weeks.

The past year opened the eyes of many Americans to the political happenings that surround us. The people are starting to understand something important, a fact that frankly terrifies some Republicans: when it comes to having a cooperative spirit, towards working with one another, many on the right have no intention whatsoever of listening or sharing ideas. Even in our own state, Scott Walker’s “Talk with Walker” tour was a blunder, exposing that the governor only wanted to talk with certain people who had already aligned themselves for the most part with him, closing the events off to the general public.

Nationally, Republicans are in danger of splitting their party in half, with Tea Party representatives and traditional, sometimes-moderate Republicans clashing over the simplest of notions -- of whether working together, of making a divided government function, is in their best interests. The extremist elements of the GOP have firmly planted their feet in the ground, while the realists have acquiesced to the idea that the American people deserve better than this.

It’s a positive sign that some Republicans are willing to work with others, but it’s troubling to see Tea Partiers act so brash to such basic ideas. In their ardent struggle to emulate some made-up semblance of what our founders stood for, they forget the most important element of all that made our nation’s founding so important: compromise.

It took several years for the formation of our country to complete itself, two separate charters before things finally clicked in America, at least in a lawmaking sense. It didn’t come from one man’s ideas, one man’s proposals, but from a set of proposals and counterproposals, critiques and debates, oftentimes leaving lawmakers of that time in heated arguments of their own.

But through it all, they came up with a compromise that worked, that culminated in the creation of our national Constitution, followed shortly by a Bill of Rights that worked to protect the god-given privileges of the people. This document wasn’t perfect; indeed, slavery remained within its clauses, though the word itself was never mentioned, and protections for minorities’ rights weren’t always practiced or cherished from the start.

Yet that framework helped mold our nation, steered it in the direction it was soon to take. A Civil War, a few recessions, a Great War, a Great Depression, and a second World War still weren’t enough to thwart the cause of representative democracy in America. And though it wasn’t always perfect, we endured to the point of becoming the envy of many around the world.

2012 caused many to doubt the way our nation worked. It caused us to call the system “broken,” and for many of us to lose faith in the way our government was meant to function.

But we mustn’t lose that faith -- our frustrations must motivate action, and from that action our lawmakers must in turn be moved to act themselves.

This weekend we witnessed that action taking place. Lawmakers who wouldn’t have ordinarily been moved, who wouldn’t normally budge on even the simplest of issues, did their duty and worked for cooperation with other lawmakers of opposing ideologies.

It was because of the people that they did so. They said to hell with pledges to political purists, and began to understand why they were sent to Washington in the first place: to deliver on what the people wanted to be done. It wasn’t through apathy that these lawmakers changed their ways: it was through considerations of what the people needed, and the voices of those people rising up to say “NO MORE” to the politics of “us-versus-them.”

There will still be frustrations; and there will still be arguments. Debate won’t ever end, but it’s not supposed to either. The strength of our nation isn’t in one side’s ability to defeat the other, but rather to have differing coalitions and ideologies come together to get real work accomplished.

It isn’t often that I’m motivated by Republican lawmakers -- but those who chose compromise over stubbornness should be commended for doing what was best for America overall. The enduring spirit of our democratic experiment lives on because of leaders from the past who were willing to work together in tough times, even with their adversaries.

Though we still have a long ways to go, this week’s acts of compromise and of willingness to set differences aside provide reason to hope once again that America can continue to endure, can push forward for generations to come, no matter what challenges we may face in the future.

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