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United by the lowest common denominator

On compromise, NPR, and the future of democracy

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"From where I sit, the game to play is compromise solution" so said Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones in "Street Fighting Man."

That is the normal way to run any democracy - through compromise. But there is a time when compromise becomes nothing more than making a deal with the devil. The Democrats have been compromising with the Republicans to the point where Richard Nixon would now be considered too liberal to run in the Democratic Party.

Starting with Clinton's signing of the Communication "Reform" Act in the '90s, which has left us finally with a gutless, feckless television news media, eager to keep us well informed about Michael Jackson while we have become far more ignorant about the world at large and the doings of our own government in particular. In this we see the result of "compromise."

The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which has made a communist military dictatorship our greatest trading partner, lost us untold millions of jobs to those who are little more than slaves and built the Chinese economy to such a strength that it may overtake us in technical know-how, productivity, and may even become in time the most powerful nation in the world, and our worst nightmare.

The senate filibuster "compromise" has resulted in corporate toadies, right-wing lackeys, and antisocial personalities being appointed to some of the most powerful federal benches... for life. Some of these appointees have no legal experience at all. Their rulings on the most critical matters of equal protection, law, and human rights will eventually eat into the very heart of most of our democratic institutions, giving even more power to an ever more powerful and threatening corporate juggernaut, as well as underwrite further monies for the right to push farther into our personal lives, our bedrooms, and our schoolrooms.

One of the best examples of the long-term effects of the kind of compromise we have been subjected to is in the history of National Public Radio. Created in the late '70s, NPR got really good by the mid-'80s. With brilliant writing and in-depth reporting; engrossing, non-commercial articles; and other features that did not insult its listeners' intelligence, there was nothing else like it in the media. But over the years it became geocentric - where little or nothing of interest happened unless it came out of New York or Washington, D.C. Then came heavier and heavier commercial sponsorship and resulting corporate influence on program content. Soon NPR seemed to be struggling more to find and produce stories, which had little to do with anything controversial and reported less and less real news and more and more fluff.

Today it is a sad, dim shadow of what it once was. Frankly, in its current state, it is not worth saving, to me. And especially now that it will soon have a Republican political hack directing its programming and content. The appointment of this party player - in direct violation of NPR's and CPB's (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) bylaws - is a compromise for not cutting $100 million from its budget. This will happen because NPR needed to be saved.

What will result is an NPR funded by a right-wing congress, broadcasting their creepy ideology nationwide. This will happen because certain compromises needed to be made in order for it to continue to exist. But it will have lost all of its original purpose. It will simply become a loud and effective voice harmonizing with FOX News and the rest of the right-wing screaming machine. So, what in the world did we compromise for?

There is another definition of compromise: exposure to danger, which I think is becoming more appropriate to the times we find ourselves in today. In his book "Animal Farm" George Orwell alludes to the dangers of compromise: All animals are created equal, (except that pigs are more equal than others). All have the right to speak, (except when we are threatened by some kinds of speech).

Deep within the workings of the legislative process lies the trick of compromise. Two legislators want similar laws to be enacted. But their desires conflict with many of their constituents. So the one on the right proposes an outrageous idea, knowing that he will get most of what he wants now and can get the rest later. The one on the left, secretly owing his place in power to the same wealthy and powerful contributors who control the one on the right, proposes a compromise. His more naive constituents believe he is doing his best to hold off the impending doom.

The law is passed. And now the one on the right can now propose further changes which he knows the one on the left must ultimately sign off on (and who secretly wants pretty much the same thing in order to keep his real backers happy).

Although every good politician knows how to use this "logrolling" method, since the one on the left has little actual conviction of his beliefs, he will steadily lose ground and will have to look for issues which have little practical value, but which he can puff up in the media to convince his constituents that they are very important. And so it goes. And, thereby hangs the tale, and that of the Democratic Party. Hung out to dry.

No. Compromise is no longer the solution. It has made right-wing extremism seem like conservatism. It is not the same thing. Some basic tenets of conservatism have also fallen away. Balanced begets, personal privacy, personal responsibility have all been compromised.

When it is asked, "Why are people not voting?" or "Why do we seem to be losing our democracy?" the thoughts I have expressed above may give you some idea. I frankly think we need a new national political party. One that will promote the best of both conservative and liberal views. If we do not do something rather soon, we will become a second-rate power with a third-rate form of government: all in the cause of compromise.

Gregory L. Martin lives in Shell Beach. He can be contacted at gmhh@charter.net

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