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Lincoln, Obama & The Importance Of Compromise

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I’ve written a lot about the importance of being willing to compromise. In fact, you might be interested in my previous post, The Best Posts & Articles About Compromise.

My interest comes out of my nineteen year career as a community organizer prior to becoming a teacher, and you can find more information about that history and perspective in that “The Best…” list.

I’ve just returned from seeing the movie Lincoln, and — for me — the key moment was a conversation “Lincoln” had with the radical abolitionist “Thaddeus Stevens.” Lincoln is trying to make Stevens see that being ideologically pure can feel good, but won’t necessarily get you what you want. He talks about a compass he had that always showed him the “true north,” but didn’t tell him the swamps and obstacles that would be in his way to get there. In other words, you couldn’t always get to where you wanted to go in a straight line.

I’m not sure how much this story is rooted in fact, but it’s certainly a good illustration of effective community organizing tactics, and the maneuverings one must make in the world as it is (as opposed to living the world as we’d like it to be).

Here’s a short clip from the movie where “Stevens” demonstrates he “gets it” by sticking to saying that the purpose of the amendment is “legal” equality, and does not get baited into saying everyone is equal — even though that’s what he believes. If he had said that, irreparable damage would have been done to the campaign to get it passed:

I believe that President Obama has made negotiating mistakes over the years, but I think he generally has done a decent job dealing with the swamps while focusing on a “true north” direction (though, for the life of me, I don’t understand how he can be so tone-deaf on education issues).

I wonder if some of his most vocal critics on the left might benefit from reflecting more on the challenges involved in getting around some of those swamps….

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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