Friday, March 01, 2013

It's Partisanship That Should be Sequestered


There are countless worthy causes to get behind—too many to name here.  Surely, among them are: “World Peace,”  “Stop Hunger,”  “End Homelessness,” “End Poverty,”  “Eradicate Disease,”  “End Violence,” “End Racism,”  “End Homophobia,” “End Transphobia,” and (gasp!) “Promote Unity within the LGBT Community (really).” 
Good causes, right?  I fully support each one and believe humankind would benefit.  If only we can wave a magic wand and make it happen.  But none of these goals will be fulfilled in our lifetimes simply because it’s not realistic.  There will always be wars.  There will always be disease.  There will always be hatred.

Every generation believes that subsequent generations will cure the ills plaguing the current one.  We’re still waiting.  Of course, I am more optimistic that today’s youth will succeed in ending homophobia and transphobia as well as putting a good dent in racism.  Yet, as in the case of wars, disease and hatred, there are other problems that seem intractable.  And one of those is political partisanship.
I admit I’m guilty of partisanship, too.  But I acknowledge certain Republicans who do good deeds and I despise some Democrats, especially a few state legislators.

The so-called “sequestration” process that was preceded by the “fiscal cliff” and other economic and political skirmishes highlight the intense political partisanship that is causing our government to be dysfunctional.  To be fair, this is not a recent phenomenon.  Such partisanship has existed throughout our history and, at times, more vitriolic than today’s combat.  Moreover, partisanship does not reside solely in the U.S.  So divided are the governments of Italy and Israel, for example, that they are finding it difficult to put together a governing coalition.
Back in the U.S.A., while it would be unfair and inaccurate to lay the responsibility on one political party, I don’t think any reasonable person would dispute the notion that the election of Barack Obama—the country’s first African-American president—touched off a tsunami of thinly veiled (if veiled at all) racist attacks and intense partisanship. 

We witnessed it during the 2008 campaign where Obama was characterized as a socialist and other provocative labels, which were patently untrue.  We saw the racist signs held by rally-goers as well as bumper stickers depicting him as a monkey.  We heard that pathetically ill-informed woman at a McCain town hall accuse Obama of being a terrorist and an Arab.  And, of course, we had to endure the “birther” movement led by the repulsive Donald Trump and other idiots who literally forced the president to prove he was born in Hawaii.
While the Affordable Care Act was being debated, more ugliness ensued as passions were easily aroused, fueled again by false information, rumors and FOX News-produced talking points.

Adding to this was the leader of the Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, saying in an interview with the National Journal in October 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  He repeated the same point at a Heritage Foundation event two months later.  While this statement occurred after the president’s significant legislation was already passed, it signaled an obstructionist strategy that would continue throughout the remainder of the president’s first term overflowing like untreated sewage into his second.
The mid-term elections in 2010 that gave the tea party an incredibly strong hand in economic policy within the GOP contributed even more partisanship, which has led to the current impasse.  Mainstream Republicans are being intimidated by the tea party crowd from threats they will be “primaried” if they don’t fall in line. 

And so poisoned is the GOP partisan well that the most popular Republican in the country, Gov. Chris Christie, was not invited to the big conservative CPAC confab ostensibly because of his praise for President Obama after Hurricane Sandy.
Clearly, Republicans do not corner the market on partisanship.  Democrats are guilty of that, too, but not as graphically.  No one is demanding that House Speaker John Boehner prove his place of birth.

Nonetheless, when I recently posted an article from NBC News on my Facebook page that noted over 100 Republicans—some going back to the Reagan administration—had signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief supporting same-sex marriage in the Prop 8 case to be argued in the Supreme Court this month, some of my Democratic friends reacted with, um, partisanship.  They reasoned the Republicans were doing this only to moderate their image to pander for votes, even though many of them were no longer in politics.
I pointed out that people do evolve (as did President Obama) in addition to the fact that one of the lead litigators in the case against Prop 8 is former Solicitor General Ted Olson, a staunch conservative.

In fairness to these friends, there is justification for their cynicism.  The GOP has been almost universally opposed to same-sex marriage and LGBT rights in general.  The marriage stance is ingrained in the party’s platform.  Only a few legislators in blue state Maryland crossed party lines and GOP doctrinaire and supported marriage equality here.
But the times are indeed changing.  Electorally, the GOP does need to soften their hard line image on a number of issues if the party is to remain relevant—a view shared by such Republican stalwarts as Newt Gingrich. 

I believe we need a strong two-party system where debating issues should be fact-based, respectful as well as robust. The way things look now, however, any reduction in partisanship is just a dream.

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