Can Compromise be Morally Virtuous?
I seldom watch TV so I get most of my news and information while driving in the car and listening to NPR radio. So I was pleased to find that I could answer most of the reflection questions about candidates’ positions regarding our “Critical Concerns” in our Mercy U.S. Elections Guide. As usual I find there is no candidate and no party who fully represents my views. Like so many people I wish I could vote for someone who agrees with me on what the problems are and how they should be addressed.
In my youth I voted for Ronald Reagan because he was against abortion and was a fiscal conservative. Over the next few years I learned how little a president can do to make abortion illegal and that when a politician claims to want to reduce government spending…they mean the spending they don’t care about. Our national debt dramatically increased during his administration, and in Latin America he promoted cruel dictatorships and the Contras. At the same time the safety net for our poor was actively unraveled. I have never been so politically naive since.
Even if there was someone who truly agreed with my priorities and that candidate was elected, he or she would be just one of many in the state or national governing body — the others would probably not think the same. This is reality in a democratic government. We are each entitled to a ‘say’ by our vote and our letters and our dollars, but the making of laws and policy involves people of many differing views. So I have been reflecting on how I can participate in a morally responsible way in a system of government which is, of necessity, full of compromise.
When we all agree that our elections and the votes of our representatives shall establish law, we must recognize that those laws will not always be in accord with our values. Even very important moral issues may be compromised in the service of the greater moral good of sustaining a government by and for all the people. Our democracy gives a vote to nearly everyone. Dominion of one person or group over others is wrong — yes, power tends to corrupt, but even more fundamentally it violates the freedom, dignity and fullness of life of those excluded from power.
When I am not happy with laws and policies which result from the compromises of pluralistic democracy; I remind myself that politics is not a place I can expect to get everything I believe in. My participation is an important way to promote moral values in a pluralistic society which must debate and negotiate and compromise to get anything done. Therefore I write letters, join campaigns, have conversations with others and call my elected representatives. As a Sister of Mercy I also participate in our processes that seek to speak with a collective voice on our critical issues. I have learned to value the messiness of it all.