Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

American politics need compromise

Matthew Harrison/Collegian

Compromise in politics? As crazy as it might sound these days, there are some places in the country where this is thankfully still happening.

Earlier this month, in Michigan, an anti-bullying law was finally passed by the state Senate, after years of debate and squabbling over the content of the bill. The bill is not yet officially a law, as it still had to be passed by the state House of Representatives, but it was a significant step forward towards the creation of a law.

That’s good, right? After all, we all know bullying is wrong. Michigan is actually one of the few states in the country without an anti-bullying law for its schools. The bill was even going to be called “Matt’s Safe School Law,” in memoriam of a Michigan teenager who had committed suicide after being bullied. A law preventing another tragedy like that is almost a no-brainer to receive broad support.

There was just one problem. Republican lawmakers in the country had insisted on a special clause that created an exemption for religious or moral statements. That’s right: bullying is apparently excusable in Michigan as long as it’s done for religious reasons.

State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer delivered a famous rebuke to the law in a speech on the legislative floor. “You may be able to pat yourselves on the back today and say that you did something, but in actuality you are explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying,” said Whitmer, as reported by “As passed today, bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.”

That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s hard to argue with Sen.Whitmer’s statement. The exact language of the bill, which can be read on the Michigan legislature’s website, is “this section does not abridge the rights under the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States or under Article I of the state constitution of 1963 of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian. This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”

In layman’s terms, if you can come up with a religious reason for it, you’re off the hook.

This clause to the anti-bulling law is abhorrent, and many across the country called the Michigan legislature out for passing it. Even the official website of the young man the bill is named after, Matt Epling, decried it as turning “an anti-bullying law into a bullying guide.”

But it turns out there is hope in the world yet. The public outcry over the bill was enough to pressure the Michigan lawmakers to make a change. In just these past few days, several lawmakers have agreed to instead pass the Michigan House of Representatives’ version of the bill, which does not include the controversial clause.

Michigan equal-rights groups in particular expressed their gratitude at the new version of the bill. Equality Michigan, an LGBT rights group, and the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations both expressed relief that the clause had been dropped from the bill. It is likely that the constituents of those two groups in particular could have been the victims of bullies exempt from the law.

The rest of the country can learn from the willingness of the Michigan legislature to compromise on this issue. Too often these days, it seems like “compromise” is a dirty word when it comes to politics. Voters seem to feel that when their representatives compromise with the “other side,” or the lawmakers they didn’t vote for, they are somehow ceding ground to the bad guys.

This type of attitude is dangerous when it comes to politics; we shouldn’t be seeing fellow Americans as “the bad guys” even if they disagree with our own beliefs. This only creates animosity and tension which prevents anything from getting done.

Many Americans wonder why the government has been acting so slowly in the past few years when the country is faced with so many issues, but the answer is obvious to any student of politics and the government. While President Barack Obama receives much criticism for this, remember high school civics – it is the Congress that passes the laws in this country. Right now, of course, one political party in this country controls the House of Representatives, the other controls the Senate, and the two are completely unwilling to compromise with each other on anything. I’m not going to point the finger at either the Democrats or the Republicans on this, because they’re both guilty.

Think back to around 2008 through 2010, when the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. They didn’t need to compromise with the Republicans, and so major legislation was passed again and again – the banking bailout, the economic stimulus package and the health care reform law. Once the Democrats lost control of the House, legislation came to a grinding halt. Again, this is not to blame Republicans for this halt; it is equally the fault of both parties that they are not willing to compromise with each other.

If anything, Obama has been most willing to compromise with his political opponents (for example, by conceding that Bush tax cuts be extended). His liberal backers heavily criticize him for this, but had he not compromised, what would have  been achieved?

Hopefully the anti-bullying law in Michigan, which everyone really can get behind now, will finally convince the American public that compromise is not bad; it is an integral and positive aspect of our political system.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].


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  • B

    BenNov 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    How was this a compromise? It sounds like a capitulation.

  • D

    David Hunt '90Nov 17, 2011 at 8:27 am

    If someone is beating you physically, punching you every second, would you compromise and allow them to only hit you every minute?

    If someone is robbing you of 10% of what you earn every week, would you compromise and say it’s OK for them to hold you up at gunpoint for 5%?

    If you’ve got cancer leeching away your strength, would you compromise and say it’s OK for the cancer to take your left leg so long as it leaves the right one alone?

    Progressivism is a cancer in America. It robs people of their property at the threat of force. It saps the work ethic.

    With what part of that cancer should we compromise?