Kunin: On Compromise

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(HOST) Former Vermont governor and
commentator Madeleine Kunin worries that the widening schism between
Congressional House Republicans and the President and Senate Democrats
is more than a debt ceiling or budget balancing crisis. She believes
that the inability of the two sides to reach a compromise may reveal a
crisis in the workings of Democracy itself.

(KUNIN) The United
States has always been diverse with lots of factions, both of geography
and belief – north and south, east and west, conservative, moderate and
liberal. James Madison, wrote in the Federalist Papers how factions can
serve to bring about a "tyranny of a minority" thereby harming the
democratic interest of the majority. The miracle of American democracy
is that – despite our differences – we could come together when
necessary, guided by our constitution, the Bill of Rights and an
American sense of fairness. The only disastrous exception was the Civil
War which resulted in the deaths of 620,000 Americans.

We have
since avoided such divisive calamities because we have learned to
compromise, to see the other person’s point of view and respect it.
Children refuse to compromise. Adults learn how. Compromise, contrary to
popular opinion, does not mean selling out one’s principles. Compromise
means working out differences to forge a solution which is better than
no solution at all.

I learned the art of compromise in the
Vermont legislature. Often, what I strongly believed was the right
answer to a problem, turned out not to be perfect. In the legislative
process one is forced to listen to and work with the other side. The
outcome may not closely resemble what either side had first proposed,
but in the hard work of compromise, the result often turns out to be a
better solution than what was originally proposed.

compromise is painful. When I chaired the House Appropriations Committee
I had to compromise with the Senate Appropriations Committee over the
budget for the state of Vermont. The House then was controlled by
Democrats, and the Senate by Republicans. We had our differences; we had
our pet projects. How did we manage to compromise and produce one
budget? The process was not sophisticated. We split the difference,
almost straight down the middle. It worked. Both sides were satisfied
because we had given and gained equally.

In the debt and budget
crises that is looming over us right now, there is no give and take. One
side has given by acceding to significant budget cuts that will be hard
for most Americans to absorb. The other side has refused to give by not
closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans. The result is a
bitter divide that is tearing the country apart. Taking the debt ceiling
hostage is a dangerous gamble which threatens both our economy and our

It’s time to recognize what compromise means: no side
wins or loses all. The real winner of compromise is not either fighting
party – it is the American people.

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