Reeder: Some things in life cannnot be compromised

Last week, I stood in a small country church and sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic along with about 50 others celebrating the life of my 103-year-old grandmother, whose long life had come to an end.

It was the hymn she requested be sung at her funeral.

Voices rose thunderously in Brooklyn United Methodist Church as the congregants pounded out the words, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

I’ve always loved that song because of its uncompromising zeal to fight for freedom.

Julia Ward Howe wrote the verses in 1862 while the nation was in the midst of the Civil War. One of its most stirring lines is: “Let us die to make men free.”

One can imagine young men in blue marching into battle singing that hymn. They were willing to give their lives for a cause bigger than themselves.

There was no room for compromise in those words.

Such sentiments are no longer politically correct. After all, compromise is the name of the game today. We are told there are no absolutes.

“Go along to get along” seems to be the mantra of many in Springfield and Washington.

It is no small wonder that in recent decades there has been a movement to reword that line in the great hymn to: “Let us live to make men free.”

After all, is freedom really worth dying for?

Yes, it is.

The men who charged the beaches of Normandy knew that all too well. So did those who gave their lives at Hue and Iwo Jima.

Imagine where we would be today if George Washington had chosen to compromise rather than fight. British tyranny would have prevailed, and the greatest nation on earth would never have been born.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized the temptation to compromise and addressed it in his great “I Have a Dream” speech:

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”

Dr. King knew some things just were non-negotiable. Nowhere in that speech will you find the soothing balm of compromise.

Those who are regular readers of this column know that I don’t often take a middle ground. As they say in Texas, “The middle of the road is a fine place to be – if you’re a dead armadillo.”

Some things in life are non-negotiable.

In a recent column, I was blunt in explaining why the recent pension compromise was bad for our state and will do little to resolve the Land of Lincoln’s ongoing fiscal ailments.

I wish I was wrong. I cannot, however, remain silent on a matter that imperils the future of this great state.

I have not the slightest doubt that the issue of pensions will be visited again and again in coming years because this “compromise” does little but saddle future generations of Illinoisans with our debt and likely will burden the current generation with higher taxes.

Some will say, “Scott, the matter has passed and is now law. It’s time to remain quiet.”

Some things, such as our children’s futures, cannot be compromised.

So I will not be silent.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at

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