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Compromise through the years

Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

News item: President Obama says he’ll veto deficit-cutting legislation – unless it is “balanced” by a compromise that also increases taxes.

And now, some historical perspective:

Sen. Henry Clay, later to be known as “The Great Compromiser,” shares a drink with Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, shortly after approval of the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Clay (calling to his slave, Charles Dupuy): Charles! Kindly pour another sherry for me and Secretary Calhoun.

Charles: Yes, Massa Henry.

Clay: Well, John, I guess it’s safe now for us to congratulate ourselves on the adoption of the compromise. I’ll be eternally grateful to you for interceding with President Monroe.

Calhoun: I did but little, sir. It was your work in the Legislature that assured the balanced approach, admitting Maine to the Union as free and Missouri as slave.

Clay: Tut, tut. It was a compromise, and everybody gets something out of a balanced compromise.

Charles (muttering): ‘Cept us slaves.

Clay: Did you say something, Charles?

Charles: No, Massa Henry.

Thirty years later, Clay, resting from the ravages of tuberculosis in Newport, R.I., toasts the visiting Sen. Steven A. Douglas.

Clay: I salute, you, Senator, for averting civil war by shepherding our bills through the Legislature.

Douglas: Not at all, Henry. After all, it was you who crafted this balanced compromise, in which everybody got something.

Charles: ‘Cept the slaves.

Clay: I heard that Charles, and you know I emancipated you six years ago. I don’t expect you to understand that we had to strengthen the fugitive slave law and declare Congress couldn’t interfere with slave trade in order to admit California as a free state.

Charles: Yes, Massa Henry. Balance.

Now it’s 1853, and James Gadsden is chatting with Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana.

Gadsden: Well, I guess that wraps it up. The United States will pay Mexico $10 million for about 30,000 acres adjacent to our Arizona and New Mexico territories.

Santa Ana: Yeah. Heck of a deal.

Gadsden: Well, every treaty is a compromise that seeks balance.

Santa Ana: Sure. Just like Guadalupe Hidalgo. You got everything above the Rio Bravo del Norte and Mexico got jack.

Gadsden: Well, you did get to be dictator.

Santa Ana: I guess that’s a kind of balance.

Flash forward to Sept. 1, 1939: British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is chatting with the Polish ambassador to London, Count Edward Raczynski.

The Count: You know, Mr. Prime Minister, it was just about a year ago that you announced “peace for our time” after brokering a deal with Hitler over the Sudetenland.

Chamberlain: Yes. That was quite the balanced compromise.

The Count: How’s that working out for you now?

Move on to August 2011: President Barack Obama is talking earnestly with House Speaker John Boehner.

Obama: Here’s the deal, John. Agree to extend U.S. borrowing, and you and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can form a “super committee” to cut the deficit. If the committee can’t do it, you agree to across-the-board budget cuts.

Boehner: Duh, that sounds real good.

Now, November 2011.

Obama: How about that, a committee of six Democrats and six Republicans couldn’t agree? Looks like automatic cuts are next.

Boehner: Well, we’ll have to make some modifications – save the defense budget, for example.

Obama: Nope. I’ll veto that.

Boehner: But we’ll take a balanced approach. I promise.

Obama: Not the way I see balance.

Boehner: But … what did we get out of the compromise?

Obama: Everybody gets something. You got an important life lesson.

And so we see the definition of “compromise” from the Blind Partisan’s Dictionary applies in the latter instance:

Compromise, n. an agreement, mutually arrived at by two parties, under which Party A agrees he is right and Party B agrees he is wrong.