Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

The System Works

The recent “Fiscal Cliff” debate provides a model for radical compromise that we can apply to contentious dialogues on campus.
Courtesy of Furman Athletics

By Jacob Zimmerman, Opinions Editor

In a 1947 speech addressing political strife and division in the British House of Commons, Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

The recent congressional debate over sequestration and the end of the Bush tax cuts—the dreaded “Fiscal Cliff”—that occurred at the beginning of this month offers us a case in which democracy is simultaneously the worst form of government and the best.

Throughout the “Fiscal Cliff” debate, congressional leaders played a dangerous game of partisan brinkmanship, a legislative Russian roulette that toyed with spending cuts and tax increases that could drastically affect the economy.

What was the result of this contentious debate? A compromise which leaves no one contented, and which fails to substantively solve any long term problems. Finally, this compromise insures that a similar debate must occur regarding federal spending in just two months time.

This is not only a defining achievement in American democracy, but also the goal of our entire political process. Moreover, this instance and its result is a model for the way in which we should confront political and philosophical differences. In this case, two groups representing irreconcilable positions came together to make a deal.

This past semester, two separate events on campus raised for me the need for a realistic recognition of the differences that can separate us. The first event was a lecture by esteemed Christian philosopher, Dr. Peter Kreeft. In passing, Kreeft described homosexuality as a personal and social disease before praising traditional gender roles. Personally, I found the statements to be offensive, insensitive and dangerously wrong.

The second event was a poetry reading by award-winning poet Andrea Gibson, whose poems address the experience of queer individuals in contemporary culture. After Gibson’s reading, Furman University received complaints from the Greenville community that objected to the content of the reading.

These two events reveal one of many deep divides that exist just beneath the surface of our university culture. Often, we manage to coexist and allow the things we have in common unite us, but the differences are still there and cannot be ignored.

The goal in these situations should not be to ensure that one side wins, establish that one argument is better or prove that one side is right, although vibrant debate is a key part of the process. The goal should be a calculated betrayal of principles in the pursuit of tangible results.

Will the result of this eminently pragmatic betrayal always be successful? The answer, embodied by the outcome of the recent congressional debate, is not always yes. But such a risk is necessary to affect meaningful change.

Democracy is risky. Living civilly in a community that contains radical and divisive difference is risky. Trusting the person across the aisle and across the classroom–the person with whom you may completely disagree–is very risky.

This semester, there are sure to be issues and events that divide us. We will have debates over spending, both at the national and university level. We will have debates about rules pertaining to firearms. We will have debates about the role of private beliefs in the public square. We will have debates about race, gender and sexuality.

These situations will make us question why we even bother trying to work through problems seriously and civilly. The recent congressional debates prove that the process does result in solutions, however imperfect.

To improve the quality of those results, we need to cultivate the ability to compromise even when we cannot find common ground.

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