Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Partisanship is Part of Politics

A few so-called "non-partisan" philosophers seem highly disappointed that the era of "post-partisanship" that they believed was going to be ushered in at this election cycle appears to be non-existent:

Idealists once looked at this presidential campaign, between two candidates who fancy themselves as free of conventional party ties, and thought it might produce the election that finally pulls Washington out of the deep rut of partisan divisiveness it fell into in the 1990s.

Today, three weeks before Election Day, it sure doesn't look that way.

Pollster Peter Hart has found some startling new evidence of high tensions. In surveying voters over the weekend, Mr. Hart found that more than a third of each candidate's supporters say they have grown to "detest" either John McCain or Sen. Obama so deeply that they would have a hard time accepting the one they don't support as president.

None of this bodes particularly well for bipartisanship after the election. In fact, it's starting to appear that the only way for Washington to overcome partisan divides may be if one party -- the Democrats, in this case -- wins by such commanding margins that it can overpower the other party.

That might be good for efficiency, but it would be bad for building the kind of national consensus that's desirable to overcome the enormous economic challenges the nation will face after Nov. 4. Building entirely new economic institutions, and figuring out how to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars in rescues and bailouts, are the kinds of enterprises best undertaken with broad bipartisan majorities, not narrow partisan ones.

While I share The Wall Street Journal seeming antipathy for partisan majorities of either hue which are so large that opposition is stifled, partisanship is as much a part of our heritage as a people as the Liberty Bell. George Washington dreamed of a nation without party, but it wasn't to work out that way. "Liberty is to faction as air is to fire," James Madison wrote in The Federalist Number 10. Just as surely as the founders stepped up their rhetoric about non-partisanship, they were busy laying the groundwork for party politics in the United States.

Political parties exist as a means to achieve political power. Beyond that, however, they exist because decent people simply disagree on the best means to govern the country. Our ideas are radically different and, in some cases, members of the other party nominate candidates which others believe are inherently bad or represent things which are inherently wrong.

The parties themselves are a means to an end, but the ideas they represent are diametrically opposed and cannot reasonably be expected to coexist without heavy public friction. This is a fact of political life, and if some folks can't handle that, politics isn't something they need to be meddling in.

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