A dictator rules a country by doing whatever he decides will maintain his power. Citizens must either conform or be "disappeared" as was the case in Argentina under Peron. A single party government, whether communist as in Soviet Russia, or an oligarchy of wealth and influence as in Mexico, rules a country to benefit its leaders.

Citizens who are not part of the oligarchy are left out of the rewards of those at the top and live their lives in poverty and despair. In all non-democratic countries, those who hold beliefs and opinions that are not acceptable to those in power are suppressed and often imprisoned. An example is the recent treatment of dissidents in China.

Democratic government, on the other hand, is based on the conviction that each citizen has the right to be heard. In this system leaders are the servants of the people, not the other way around. For democracy to work, compromise and negotiation are essential and politics becomes the art of the possible.

No single person or group can claim absolute truth for their position, no matter how passionately held. Rigid ultimatums and claims of purity for one's own side while demonizing the other as deluded or evil will not result in outcomes acceptable, even reluctantly, by all parties to the disputes. Rejecting all compromise as weakness, traitorous, or delusional almost inevitably leads to a stalemate as is happening in our country right now.

In spite of what some have come to believe, the authors of the Constitution were not infallible, and the Constitution was not the result of quasi-biblical revelation. Its final ratification was achieved by negotiation and compromise.

Without compromise, a number of states would have refused to ratify the Constitution and have proceeded as independent governments. Instead of a UNITED States, we might be living in the country of Tennessee without the benefits, resources, and political influence that are necessary to deal effectively with the broad issues and problems of our modern world.

An example of one such compromise is our two chamber legislature. Smaller states such as Rhode Island were concerned that if representation were to be based solely on population, large states such as New York would have an unfair advantage. A compromise was negotiated whereby the House of Representatives would be based on population and each state would have two senators in the Senate regardless of population.

Another concern was that of the southern, slaveholding states. They feared that the rapid growth of the northern states, whose economy was more industrial than the south, would mean a permanent minority voice in the new government. The compromise was to count slaves as three-fifth of a person for apportioning representation in the House, even though slaves would not be permitted to vote.

As is true with all compromise, neither of these was a perfect solution. The Senate and the House have often been at loggerheads and have had to negotiate and compromise to get the business of government done. The three-fifth rule which assured the creation of the United States also planted one of the seeds of the Civil War. Yet without these compromises there might very well be no United States of America. Fortunately for the moral development of our nation, slavery and the "three-fifth of a person" classifications were eventually eliminated.

The present impasse in our government over deficits, taxes, health care, education, and the debt ceiling is the result of rigidly held positions on how to deal with these important and admittedly difficult problems. It is being demanded, for instance, that all presidential and congressional candidates as well as current incumbents agree to a pledge binding them to absolute positions on taxes, or abortion, or cuts in government spending, never mind if the country or individuals are adversely affected.

As a result of such absolutism, our national government has become a battleground, a struggle the participants see as between good and evil with no positions in between. Where there is no possibility of compromise, bitter division and stalemate are increasing in government and throughout the country.

When a country reaches such a point, unless a way out is found, history suggests that an opening is then made for a group or an individual to step in and set things right as they perceive the right, without respecting the rights or opinions of the public. What a tragic end to democracy that would be!

Negotiation and compromise are the only paths to effective democratic government.

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