This article is a response to Partisanship in American Government Means Caring About a Cause by Robert Peate, which takes a look at the nature of partisanship and evaluates whether Americans should place so much emphasis on avoiding it.
Mr. Peate says in his (very well written) article that he doesn’t understand why partisanship is considered negative in America. This isn’t one of the easiest questions to answer, but it certainly is answerable if you look at how Americans see politics and how the word “partisanship” is being used in our country today.
America doesn’t consider partisanship to be caring deeply about an issue, but rather the opposite; glazing over the important points of an issue in order to adhere to party lines. In another sense, partisan politics to us may be to automatically oppose our rival party’s stance on an issue (this would be cured if we had more than two parties, but that’s another article). Partisanship is therefore seen as something that impedes national progress and causes costly debates on issues that don’t need or deserve them.
However, there’s a big problem with our perception of “partisan” politics. Any time an election pops up, so does the word. Any time a politician has to make a tough decision, his opponents will throw the word around. Parties add the buzzword “partisan politics” to their list of talking points and head onto shows like Hardball and Crossfire and spit them out at their opponents. It’s a phrase used to systematically discredit the opposing party, and it can be used on practically any issue because it implies that the user has an obviously correct opinion about the issue in question.
Ironically, the term “partisan” is often used by either party to attack the other. The politicians wheeze on about their opponent’s zest for sticking to party lines, and often it’ll win them the debate.
It’s not just a tactic used by politicians, either. Many people I’ve met claim that they’re “nonpartisan independents,” brag about how fair minded they are, yet vote along party lines harder than anyone I know affiliated with either party. They’re suspicious of the side they’re not on and only really do their research to find out how the right or left wing feels about a party, then justify that belief with their own mind. It’s all an illusion, a pretty dream that became a political buzzword overnight and fills its users with a sense of pompous arrogance.
The problem occurred when, at some point, the idea of a nonpartisan politician became identified in America as what the norm should be rather than a lofty aspiration.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of a nation that doesn’t play partisan politics. I adore it. It would be the most perfect form of democracy, with each citizen and politician doing everything they can to avoid judging an issue before they hear all sides of it. We could have actual debate rather than the game say of whatever side a given person takes on an issue; we could have public discussion and make decisions with a calm mind.
Unfortunately, it’s not realistically possible. Americans can’t be expected to research every issue they come across, nor can they vote for different candidates based on each issue; politicians can’t go outside of party lines whenever they decide it’s right or they won’t get elected. Nobody will vote for someone who’s all over the board politically.
It’s impossible to be a nonpartisan lawmaker and a good politician 100 percent of the time, and when there’s a discrepancy, the politics will always win because that’s how our system is structured. It’s not an absolutely horrible thing; people tend to lean completely to the left or right, and though there’ll always be crossover issues, don’t be surprised if you find yourself agreeing with a party for about eighty percent of the time. After all, isn’t that why we have political parties, to represent the larger opinion? You can’t jump around too much in that case.
Each party can, however, take a look at each issue and form a stance independent of the decision of the other party. I think that America’s zeal for nonpartisan thinking. Not nonpartisan politicians, but nonpartisan political parties. Ultimately, that’s the best we’ve got to hope for.