Why Compromising on Principles is Stupid

The liberal left and establishment right keep complaining that the Tea Party “doesn’t understand compromise” or isn’t “willing to compromise.”

This immediately raises the question: Compromise WHAT, exactly?

A compromise, in or out of politics, refers to a deal between two people who already agree on fundamental principle. For example, a married coupling squabbling over finances comes to a compromise. One wants to budget $1000 for a vacation, the other wants to budget $5000. They agree to $3000. Neither questions the desire and need for a vacation; neither suggests spending the money on something else. Neither is suggesting getting divorced over it.

There are many things that married couples can compromise on, but there are things not subject to compromise, as well.

For example, a married spouse wanting monogamy — as most married spouses do — won’t agree to an open relationship. That’s a fundamental difference in principle not subject to compromise. It’s a deal breaker, when the two partners disagree.

You wouldn’t say, “That wife who won’t compromise on monogamy is unreasonable. She doesn’t understand the nature of compromise!” No, you wouldn’t say such a thing, because it’s self-evident that some things are not subject to compromise.

The same applies to politics. If two parties agree there should be a program run by government subsidizing health care services, then the question only becomes: How much to spend on it? $1 trillion or $2 trillion? Or, how should the program be run, and what should it cover? These are all matters subject to debate and compromise. However, these debates are pointless if you disagree in principle. If you don’t think government should be subsidizing health care in the first place, then you’re not going to argue for $1 trillion in spending rather than the $5 trillion your opponent wants. By doing so, you’re conceding something you don’t believe — that government should be in the business of subsidizing health care at all.

This is the current problem in Washington D.C. The more principled of the Tea Party members appear to believe that there’s something wrong, in principle, with government doing things that are not specifically provided for in the Constitution. As a result, they fervently oppose the expansion of programs — to say nothing of the creation of new programs, such as ObamaCare — that according to them are, in principle, unconstitutional in the first place.

Democrats don’t have to agree with the principles of the Tea Party, and obviously none of them do. But they have no business expecting people who disagree with them on matters of fundamental principle to compromise away those principles. Would a liberal Democrat? Can you see a liberal Democrat conceding that Medicare was wrong in the first place, will certainly go broke, and therefore should be humanely privatized, with not a single penny going to expanding it? Not in a million years.

The Democrats (and many Republicans too, such as that intellectual piece of wood, John McCain) pine for the days when everyone agreed on fundamental principle. Back when Lyndon B. Johnson was President, there was no question, in principle, about the validity of a government program to finance health care for the elderly; the only things to debate, and therefore compromise on, were administration and cost. It has been that way ever since, even during the Reagan years. Those who questioned the validity of Medicare in principle were marginalized as cranks. Yet their predictions of future disaster fiscally, plus to the medical profession itself, were vastly understated, as it turned out.

The Tea Party, while not always coherent or consistent, at least brings a sense of principle to what used to be entirely one-sided debates in Washington D.C. This is quite clearly driving mainstream Republicans and all Democrats insane.

Who knows how far the Tea Party will go? Most of history suggests they will cave, but there are always exceptions to the rule. The original American Revolution was one. The entitlement state is imploding no matter what happens to the Tea Party, as anything so morally and fiscally unsound sooner or later had to do.

The establishment Democrats-Republicans — still in control, and still the numerical majority — don’t want things to change. But things are going to change anyway, because unsustainable programs and logically contradictory positions cannot stand up over time.

What has kept the entitlement state of Medicare/Social Security and business subsidies going so long is that the private sector has always surged after a certain point, bringing more money to the tax coffers. We used to have boom-bust cycles in our economy; now we have just one big bust. Since Obama came on the scene, economic growth has essentially ceased, while the demand for government entitlements has skyrocketed. THIS is the reason, not the Tea Party, why Washington D.C. is literally paralyzed, and will remain so unless we have an actual political revolution.

The entitlement and transfer-of-wealth state that we created was always morally wrong, and now it’s self-evidently unsound. Wrong principles got us into this mess; and only right principles can get us out of it. Actually, it’s probably too late to “get out” of anything. The consequences are there for us all to see, and more are coming regardless of the outcome of any one budget debate or election.

Principles, not compromise, are how we start over. You don’t build a house or a bridge based on compromise. You don’t ignore half the principles of engineering and physics, while honoring the other half — and then proclaim this as a virtue because it’s a compromise. You don’t ask a brain surgeon whom you’re counting on to save you from brain cancer to please, “Be reasonable and compromise. Apply some of the principles of medicine, but not all of them.”

Similarly, Americans shouldn’t be asking their elected leaders to do the equivalent with our government and economy. They shouldn’t be saying, “Split the difference between what’s right and wrong.”

Americans have no business being confused that our government has reached this state. We empowered our government to do stupid and immoral things for decades. The results should be no surprise at all. By adhering to proper principles of government, we need never have been here.