Archive for August, 2012

MARY DUTY
Board of Contributors
Waco Tribune Herald
Waco, Texas

Sunday August 26, 2012

The good news is that as of today there are 72 days till the presidential election. The bad news is there are 72 days till the presidential election. In those days, my students and I will explore the idea of nation-building and compromise through a study of the U.S. Constitution.

In elections past, some candidates wrapped themselves in the imagery of the flag. Today many turn to pocket copies of the Constitution. This is a change from symbol to substance, but I worry that we underestimate the hard work and sacrifice that went into crafting the Constitution. All Americans need to know just what it took to get it.

We must remember the Constitution would not exist as we know it without the fundamental principles of debate and compromise. Sadly, in the last few years compromise has become a dirty word. In many places, legislators who have been willing to work with the other side have been voted from office. Mere consensus-building has become dangerous.

The Constitution was developed through much compromise. First, small states and large states argued how to determine representation in the new Congress. Small states favored a one state-one vote approach. Large states felt that it was only fair to count the people living in each state and determine representation based on population. After spirited discussion, a deal was struck. The Great Compromise gave us the House of Representatives and Senate, which provided balance and representation.

The next sticking point: who to count. Free states wanted to count only free citizens. Slave-holding states wanted to count everyone, including their substantial slave population. Once again, after heated debate, the three-fifths compromise was struck, and 60 percent or three-fifths of the slaves were counted for purposes of representation. The list of compromises goes on, with agreements about how we elect our president, determine tariffs and regulate slave trade. Sadly, no one was ready to tackle the fundamental issue of slavery. The inability to compromise on that one came back to haunt us in the 1860s with the Civil War.

The Constitution would not have even been ratified had it not been for the last great compromise, the Bill of Rights. These first 10 amendments guaranteed individual liberties not listed in the original document. It brought anti-Federalists back to the negotiations and the Constitution was ratified a short time later.

To me, it’s clear that when we abandon the idea of thoughtful compromise, we end up in the predicament that we’re in today. We have a congress that is gridlocked. Everyone talks but no one listens. We have government that is frozen and unable to govern. The clock is ticking on our country and very few are willing to work together for the common good of all Americans.

Our sons and daughters spent the better part of 10 years fighting, bleeding and dying, working to bring some form of democracy to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops and advisers taught citizens there how to discuss and debate without resorting to car bombs and assassinations. Progress has been made, even though it might not be as much as we had all hoped for.

One thing that George Washington worried about was the division and strife that political parties bring to debate. Are we willing to take his advice and take a step back from our entrenched positions? Can we not find some common ground? In dangerous and precarious times, our Founding Fathers were willing to work together for the common good. Can we not remember their wisdom?

It is my hope we can return to the Founding Fathers’ sense of nation-building through healthy and thoughtful compromise. And we should elect those who encourage compromise and discussion with civility. It may be our last, best hope for this great nation.

Businesswoman and educator Mary Duty is a social studies specialist at the ATLAS (Advanced Talent Learning and Serving) Academy at Tennyson Middle School. Her son, Caleb, served two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq.