Three Cheers for Partisan Politics
The era of partisan politics is over! Or so we thought. After President Obama was elected, the skies over Washington were supposed to clear up; the fog of partisanship would be rolled back; the congressmen on Capitol Hill would gather around a big campfire under the capitol dome while holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.”
All that was missing was a big optimistic rainbow descending from the heavens as a promise never to play partisan politics again. Imagine my surprise when that didn’t go exactly as we’d imagined.
Somewhere along the line, we forgot that people still have their personal convictions, and that there are different philosophies on the role of government. We forgot that while partisan politics can be frustrating at times, it is the backbone of America’s two-party system.
To be partisan is to be partial to a specific party. There is nothing wrong with preferring one party over another. For something to be bipartisan, it must be supported by members of both parties. Bills that are bipartisan are typically something small that everybody can agree on, like more jobs, clean water, reducing the deficit, etc.
However, when major issues are on the line, the last thing we want our congressman to be is bipartisan. When we vote for someone in a specific party, we are supposed to know exactly what we are going to get. Voting for a Republican usually means tax cuts are coming, while voting for a Democrat usually means domestic issues are going to be addressed.
We vote for a Republican or Democrat because we want them to advance a certain political philosophy. We literally get to overthrow the government every two years if our priorities change or if our congressman fails us.
When the goal of politics is to be bipartisan, suddenly political philosophies cease to matter. The party lines get blurred and whom you vote for might as well be the winner of a coin toss. The point of partisanship is that it forces our congressmen to find a compromise. Liberals and conservatives have two very different approaches to government. They will each create a different plan of action for an issue. Then, unless one party has a super-majority, they will have to seek compromise and reconcile the two plans until both sides have parts they like and don’t like.
Compromise after compromise over a long period of time is how you can change government policies. That’s how the United States government works, and if you don’t like what your congressman is doing, you can vote them out of office in the next election cycle. Our mistake in 2008 was to believe that immediate change was plausible.
Change isn’t flashy. It happens through small groups of people who passionately believe in what they’re doing. Change happens in back-room deals without cameras and Hollywood glamour. Change happens slowly and the process isn’t nearly as exciting as we would like.
Slow, gradual change prevents legislators from making knee-jerk reactions. Partisans bicker and quibble for months, years and even decades. It allows the best possible bill to be put on the president’s desk.
When the goal is to be bipartisan, it means acquiescing and losing your backbone. It means groupthink, or the lack of individual creativity and sense of personal responsibility. If bipartisanism was the rule in Washington, the government would be comprised of far-flung reactionaries charging head-first into a brick wall.
When we have partisan politics, it forces us to stop and think “wait a minute, is this really the best thing to do?” Partisans force debate on the issues that affect American citizens. Debate leads to the opening of minds and the increase of knowledge and available information.
I propose the revival of partisan politics. If you’re the party with power, use it. If the people don’t like what you’re doing, they can vote you out of office. Wheel and deal in the back rooms of the Capitol building to get your constituents what they want. And voters, if you don’t agree with the government’s agenda, take advantage of your ability and legally overthrow the government.