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Life For Life: A Difficult Political Compromise

March 8th, 2018 by dk

If I were the solution to an intractable social dilemma plaguing modern America attending a masquerade party, I already know what I’d pretend to be. I’d go to the party dressed up as two problems. As long as each side of the social divide saw something they believed in, they wouldn’t recognize me. Those opposing problems are disguising a solution! It’s right there, hovering near the bean dip.

Liberals and conservatives share an abiding angst. They cannot get traction against an immovable object — the status quo. They each refer to their efforts as a “movement” — except for the fact that nothing has moved.

If these two problems could be paired together, both sides could walk away with part of a solution, or the beginning of one. Most Americans would be pleased to see even partial progress. The body politic might even regain its innate gag reflex against the most extreme political positions.

National politics has been playing small ball for too long. This proposal requires large, painful compromises that will make all sides wince. The pain must be accepted as an important and essential ingredient.

It will bring liberals and conservatives together, but it will not require that they meet in the middle. We’ve lost any ability to agree on any fixed definition of the middle. To be blunt, the truth is this. Liberals must give up more than conservatives when it comes to political horse trading, because liberals care more.

That’s not the way I would have set things up if I was designing a universe, but I wasn’t consulted when this one began. Once negotiations begin, those who care most find themselves with the least leverage. It’s called the Principle of Least Interest. You can look it up, but it cannot be changed. It’s the way it is.

Liberals will give up more than conservatives in this compromise. So be it. Let’s give this grand bargain a name, because we’ll be talking about it for a while: “Life for Life.” It sounds like a hostage exchange because that’s exactly what it is. Each side has been holed up, constructing barricades to prevent any invasion that would diminish their leverage.

Since the horrible shooting at [fill in the blank], liberals feel a revived desperation to do something — anything! — to reduce gun violence in America. That’s what they say, but this bargain will test that.

Conservatives care about the Supreme Court, but not because their judicial robes and choir robes look alike. They want a majority of the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in all 50 states.

Each side is fighting for the lives of the innocent, hoping to protect the most vulnerable among us. The other side in each case insists that personal liberty is more important than the other side’s deeply held conviction. So how far will each go to accommodate the other, if it significantly advanced their own cause?

It’s too much to ask that liberals accept what was the law of the land before 1973, remanding all abortion restrictions or allowances to individual states. And conservatives will not allow all their guns to be pried from their still-warm-with-life hands.

But dial it back a bit and there may be a meaningful compromise that merits the necessary pain from each side. Political leaders on both sides can take it from here and do the hard work, but here’s how that particular ball could get rolling.

Congress could outlaw late-term abortions after fetal viability, usually at 22 weeks, in all 50 states with Democratic support. Additional funds for counselors, adoption agencies and foster care could ease the transition away from an absolutist pro-choice position.

In return, Republicans could support a package of modest gun laws. Allow the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence as a public health issue. Outlaw bump stocks. Slow the sale of repeater rifles and high-capacity magazines.

If the deal doesn’t hurt all sides in the debate, it missed its target. “Life for Life” admits that protecting vulnerable lives is worthy of painful compromise. Legislators should go big or go home.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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