Wednesday, February 02, 2011

When is a Compromise a Betrayal?

What a fine first speech in the Senate from Rand Paul! He addresses an important issue: When is compromising a good thing and when is it bad? I think "compromise" generally refers to two very different things. There really should be two different words here.

Suppose I am trying to sell my car. I'm asking $1,000. I am offered $700. That's too little. I would rather keep the car. It's worth more than $700 to me. I say, "Will you compromise at $850?" Sometimes "compromise" means accepting something that's "good enough" when you were hoping for something great.

On the other hand, suppose that the issue is whether to support the institution of slavery, which you know (or should know) to be wrong. If you do, your compromise will achieve a result you think is better on the whole than if you don't: you enhance your chances of becoming president, perhaps, or you diminish the chances of a civil war somewhat. But you achieve these supposedly good results by means of supporting a violation of human rights. I would say you have to forgo this opportunity to achieve those results. In this case, compromise means compromising on basic principles.

Bottom line: Compromise between better and worse, not between right and wrong.

Given his principles, Sen. Paul is making a perfectly good application of this idea. In his view, spending is the cause of the current problem. In his terms, to compromise between cutting spending and raising taxes would be a compromise between right and wrong.

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