Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rand Paul On "Compromise"

Wikimedia commons drawing of a gadfly.
In describing his single-minded approach to Senate matters recently, Rand Paul asked rhetorically, "Is compromise the noble position?"

I guess the answer is supposed to seem like No, but I thought it was Yes.  Many of the noblest and most sensible things we do in life are compromises.

You want to protect your children and keep them safe.  But this would mean not driving them around, since driving is very risky.  You also want your children to do fun and interesting stuff in the outside world.  So you compromise between these two aims.  You drive them around, but you pay attention and you choose a car with safety features.

Noble?  Yes.  Compromise?  Yes.

You want to test a new drug.  It might have terrible side effects and it might not be effective, but it might work and it might save thousands of lives.  The aim of not harming people means you couldn't give them the drug.  But this would mean foregoing the benefits.  So you create a complex system that involves informed consent, together with a set of standards for how to implement the test.

Noble?  Yes.  Compromise?  Yes.

The reason we have to compromise is that there are lots of good and valuable things in life and they don't always fit together in easy or simple ways.  We want peace and we want justice, but they seem to recommend different actions in the short term.  In the long term, we try to get as much of both as we can.  It's a compromise.

The Times story with the quote mentioned Paul voting against a law that would punish people for aiming lasers at aircraft.  Apparently the lasers interfere of the pilot's ability to see and thus pilot the aircraft safely or something.  He was the only Senator who voted against it.

I mean, I don't know the particulars.  But this seems a good example of a noble compromise -- well at least a sensible compromise -- between the aims of protecting individual liberties and protecting unsuspecting and innocent people from a threat of harm and death they couldn't foresee.  If not, it's not hard to imagine how something like it would be a sensible compromise.

Compromise gets a bad rap because people think of compromise between a value and something that isn't a value -- like a whim.  So sure, if you compromise on your workout and do 10 pushups instead of 20 because you're just lazy, you might think Gee, better not to compromise.  Or maybe Paul was talking about compromising with other people you disagree with, just because they disagree with you, which can also seem unsavory.   

But many compromises are between values and other values.  And these compromises?  Totally essential to getting along in life.

So, Mr. Paul, I'm glad you're upset about the Patriot Act, because I am too, but I can't run with you on the whole Noble Uncompromiser business.

4 comments:

Daniel said...

I guess that where I might differ with what you're saying is your suggestion that the general thrust is actually WITH Rand Paul, or that in general people actually think that not compromising is indeed noble.

Most of what I read or hear seems directly opposed to this - compromise is highly valued and resistance to compromise is a form of pathology.

Perhaps this is simply a matter of what I tend to read.

Anyway, interesting to think about compromise and its place in the political process.

Daniel said...

Reading a bit more about it, I think that it's fair to say that Rand Paul probably doesn't frame it as do you, a question of differing values. I can't speak for him, but I imagine that his intransigence is motivated primarily by his ideas of what is worthy of legislation, and also what should be a federal issue. And if this is the case, I'm not sure what a compromise on his part would look like. It would be a concession, or a renunciation of his position rather a compromise, wouldn't it?

Patricia said...

Hi Daniel,
About the first thing, I thought that since it was presented as a rhetorical question the answer was thought -- at least by the speaker -- to be Yes. I think the assumption is somewhat correct -- at least that there are people who regard compromise as a kind of necessary evil or dirty practical matter as opposed to the "noble" ideal of non-compromise. And that's what I am challenging.

With respect to the second, there are, indeed, lots of forms of compromise. Is it fair to interpret Rand, as I am doing, as preferring not to "compromise" in the sense of not wanting to infringe one value for another, or to "balance" conflicting values against one another?

Well, I have limited patience for politics but given his views I don't think it's unfair. His remarks about freedom seem to suggest he thinks one ought not act so as to promote some other value at the cost of freedom. That's wanting not to "compromise" in the sense I was discussing.

Daniel said...

Hi Patricia,

Thanks for the response!

As somebody who has a libertarian boyfriend but many decidedly non-libertarian friends and colleagues I've noticed something that might be applicable to this discussion. Libertarians seem to focus in on process, institutions and rules, and to vLue these highly in the political process, whereas liberals might be more likely to discount this more readily, and to not see much of a difference between a compromise that an individual makes with himself or a parent when thinking about her and that of a law. In the liberal view, it seems like the focus is on the value writ large (freedom versus protecting the innocent in the case of the laser thing). I don't think it is Necessarily unfair to say that Rand doesn't want to compromise in the sense of infringing upon freedom as a value, but I do think that interpretation might miss a lot of the nuance of what his position on the matter could possibly be, as it doesn't incorporate, unless I'm missing it, a perspective on the political process as a meaningful variable.