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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

Reiniers: Concessions on the part of friends

More Than Words


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The Constitution produced at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 was an array of compromises, one of them being the seeming inequity in senatorial representation between larger and smaller states.

This ever could happen today.

As James Madison said in Federalist 38, "the struggle could only be terminated by compromise." (Take note of the use of the word "struggle.") This was a huge compromise - known as the "Great compromise," - but remember the 13 states trying to form this republic were all co-equals. So the compromise was that representation in the Senate would be based on geography, whereas in the House it would be based on population.

If we were to wave a magic wand and put this issue before the current Congress, could they reach this "great compromise?" Answer: No. For starters, New York and California would not agree. Democratic voters prefer a direct (pure) democracy. If and when they pledge allegiance to the American flag, it does annoy them that they are pledging allegiance "to the republic" - as guaranteed by the Constitution.

What worries Democrats is that in a republic, sovereignty is in each individual, whereas in a democracy sovereignty rests in a group. Because Democrats continue to hold an advantage in registered voters, they prefer Athenian or a direct democracy. In Federalist 55, Madison referred to the Athenian assembly as a "mob" - majority rule.

The Framers avoided this trap in their own deliberations because they knew the fallibility of men. As Alexander Hamilton explained (referring to the Framers): "I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man." He continued: "The compacts which are to embrace 13 distinct states in a common bond . must necessarily be a compromise of as many dissimilar interests"

You've got to admire Madison when he says: "No skill in the science of government has been able to . define with sufficient certainty, its three greatest provinces - the legislative, executive and judiciary." Sometimes you wonder why they tried, but as Hamilton warned they had to arrive at a finished product, no matter how flawed, given "the precarious state of our national affairs." (This would sound familiar in 2014.) To achieve that end, he warned the convention to, "beware of an obstinate adherence to party," that their work is to decide "the very existence of the nation." (These words were written before we became a country.)

Madison must have been pleased with the non-partisan demeanor of the Founders as a group when he observed: ".the convention must have enjoyed, in a very singular degree an exemption from the pestilential [toxic] influences of party animosities the disease most incident to deliberative bodies."

Because, as Hamilton explained, there were "concessions on the part of friends" of a plan that made no "claim to absolute perfection." It was the best they could do with time being of essence for "all the sincere lovers of the Union . guarding against hazarding anarchy. [and] a perpetual alienation of the states from each other."

Surely anyone reading this can see a parallel between the circumstances facing this convention in 1787 and our hopelessly dived country in 2014. Some delegates were in many respects polar opposites. (Seventy delegates were appointed to attend the Constitutional Convention; 55 showed up, but only 39 signed the document.) Yet these wise men managed to muddle through because the very nation was at stake.

They compromised on slavery (which Madison thought barbarous), anti-federalism vs. Hamiltonian federalism, small states vs. big states, national taxation, and a host of other issues.

Their work product was the result of - as Hamilton said - "concessions on the part of friends," which were more than likely concessions on the part of realists, not ideologues.

In recent years, with the Democratic Party moving ever farther left and losing its conservative wing along the way, they have no inclination to compromise. If they announce a policy position and Republicans disagree, they are labeled obstructionists. In 2011 Paul Ryan advanced bold ideas which even had some Republicans squirming. These called for serious debate. He was ridiculed. Sen. Harry Reid wouldn't let anything go to the Senate floor for debate.

George Bush might be many things, but he is not a conservative. In 2005, Hernando Today published a piece I wrote about Bush proposing personal savings accounts as a part of Social Security reform. This should have opened up a floodgate of reform ideas. He was demonized for plotting to gut the "basic social compact" of entitlement programs. Yet in 2014 Obama said he was open to Social Security reform.

Obama's own bi-partisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility unveiled a plan which would have erased $4 trillion in projected deficits through 2020. Obama simply ignored the recommendations of his own commission. Just about everyone, including the media, thought the president finally would get the ball rolling for fiscal reform.

With leadership like this, the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787 still would be in session.

How can there be "concessions on the part of friends" if there is no congressional debate?

John Reiniers is a retired attorney and regular columnist who lives in Spring Hill. Email him at

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