Compromise or Concession at Whose Expense?


During this debt and deficit debate, President Obama was very clear in stating, “Not only is it not fair if all this is done on the backs of middle-class families, it doesn’t make sense.” He continued,”…That’s why people from both parties have said the best way to take on our deficit is with a balanced approach… one where wealthy Americans and corporations pay their share, too.” It appeared as though closing tax loopholes and increased revenues coming from the “…oil company or a corporate jet owner that’s doing so well…” would not be a point of compromise, but it became the basis of concession.

As the hour of judgment drew near, Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) proposed a compromise. In short, Reid’s plan implemented cuts to discretionary spending including roughly $1 trillion in savings that came from savings as troops are drawn down from Iraq and Afghanistan without measures to increase revenue.

The parties were able to finally find common ground and strike a compromise. Unfortunately, the grounds upon which the tents are pitched are squarely in the Republican camp. In a nutshell, this “compromise” does not close corporate tax loopholes, end the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and still leaves much need social support programs for the “least of us” vulnerable. According to Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) this “may be the single worst piece of public policy to ever come out of this institution,” and House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) said the agreement “makes these big cuts and has … not one red cent from the wealthiest people in our country – no revenue.” It’s not a compromise, it’s a concession.

This problem did not begin one, two, or three months ago. This problem began in December when the Obama Administration and House Democrats failed to tie the Republican’s call for an extension of the Bush era tax cuts to an increase in the debt ceiling. The administration allowed the Republicans to control the narrative by tying the debt ceiling to the deficit, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

As every one in the middle and working classes will be dramatically impacted by the lack of balance in this “compromise,” African Americans will be disproportionately impacted. According to the most recent Pew Research Center report, based on 2009 data, “The typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth… in 2009 and the typical white household had $113,149… Moreover, about a third of black (35%) households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15% of white households.”

With Republicans being insistent on attacking entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicade, compromises that do not share the sacrifice by closing tax loopholes and increased revenues from the wealthy in America should have carried the day. All too often, America has compromised at the expense of and upon the backs of African Americans and the poor. This has happened once again.

Since its founding, America has suffered from a Political Multiple Personality Disorder (PMPD). The great experiment of democracy, America, has struggled to reconcile its stated goals with its reality. Too many times throughout its history, America has compromised its stated values of liberty, equality, and respect for human rights, for profit and property. Slavery, racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of dispirit treatment of many of its citizens conflict with the ideals upon which the country was founded and are clear examples of America’s PMPD.

For example, in order to get the Southern slave states to sign onto the Constitution and strike a balance between the slave-holding states and free-states, a number of compromises were reached- all at the expense of the Africans in America. They were not yet African Americans, as the 14th Amendment, which provided a broad definition of citizenship and overruled the Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling of 1857, was not ratified until 1868.

For the sake of taxation and representation, the Three Fifths Compromise was struck (Article I, Section 2). In Article I, Section 9, the importation of slaves was allowed to continue until 1808- not because of the founders desire to end “The Peculiar Institution” but it was determined that after twenty additional years of importing slaves and procreation, America would be able to “breed” their own through childbirth within America. Finally, the Fugitive Slave Provision (Article IV, Section 2) was incorporated into the Constitution. Since there were free-states and slave holding states operating under the same Constitution, any person held to service or labor in a slave state who escaped to a free-state was to be returned to their slave-state upon demand.

These compromises of values and lapses in judgment are not only found in the Constitutional foundations of America but the courts and legislature as well. Many of them have been used to support, codify, and institutionalize ideologies of white supremacy in America.

It was Chief Justice Roger Taney who wrote in 1857 in the Dread Scott ruling:

“They (Africans in America) had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

They (Africans in America) had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

In 1877, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden conceded the presidential election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes on the understanding that Hayes would remove the federal troops that were propping up Republican state governments in the Southern states, effectively bringing an end to Reconstruction. This has come to be known as the Tilden – Hayes Compromise or the “Corrupt Bargain.”

In Plessy v. Ferguson 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation in public accommodations under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” Justice Henry B. Brown declared, “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Plessy remained the standard doctrine in U.S. law until Justice Harlan’s insight and wisdom became the majority sentiment on the court in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision which was in itself, another compromise. Instead of requiring all states to immediately integrate their schools or setting a reasonable deadline, the Court allowed the states to integrate, “…with all deliberate speed.” This compromise resulted in the need for the Brown II case in 1955.

Compromise can be tricky. At almost every turn- too many of America’s great compromises have been concessions at the expense of either Africans in America or African Americans. We can ill afford this “Great Compromise.”

© 2011 InfoWave Communications, LLC. Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the call-in talk radio program "Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon," on Sirius/XM 128. He teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to Dr. Leon’s Prescription on Facebook and follow on Twitter @DrWLeon or email: