Thursday, December 9, 2010

Compromisers and Horse Traders

The Federalists believed the Articles of Confederation, our first constitution, made the national government too weak. Thus, they pushed for a new constitution. The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, believed the constitution that was proposed to replace the Articles of Confederation would make the national government too strong and would essentially create a monarchy.

After a near-civil war over the issue of a proposed new constitution, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists came together with a compromise. The Federalists would get their constitution and the Anti-Federalists would get a bill of rights that amended the Constitution and limited the power and authority of the government in favor of the rights and responsibilities of states and individuals. The Constitution was ultimately ratified and the Bill of Rights became the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

That was the compromise that set the standard for all government compromises in this country. The compromise that produced the Constitution and the Bill of Rights gave the Federalists a republic in place of a vulnerable confederation of independent states, and it gave the Anti-Federalists the limited government and the individual and states rights they sought.  The compromise didn't cause either side to subjugate their values to the agreement; instead, it struck an improbable balance between concerns for liberty on one side and security on the other.  They argued, they fought, they walked out on each other, they wrote articles and pamphlets on the other's positions, but ultimately, they made it come together.

The difference between the compromise that produced our Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the compromises the government makes now is there is simply not enough friction in the debate today to create imaginative outcomes that preserve our values. There is not enough toiling over the principles.  I suspect the absence of that fruitful friction is caused by too much reliance on power, expedience, and prerogative, and not enough faith in principles, honor, and duty.

There is a vast difference in the quality of public policy produced by men and women who brood over our national values and our societal fabric and what we end up when they settle on policy by simply divvying up pet projects and issues. Their horse trading has produced ear marks, deal-making, and bi-partisanship that have broken the bank. We need less bi-partisanship and more non-partisanship. We need less horse trading and more compromise.  I don't believe we'll solve our most serious problems in this country until they figure it out.