Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More on Partisanship vs. Ideology

I just stumbled across this extremely old post at Coyote Blog that hits a home run in terms of fleshing out the problems with "pu-pu platter partisanship," or as he calls it "politics without philosophy."

In my view, the biggest cause of the heated rhetoric and immediate dismissal of all things "bipartisan" is "pu-pu platter partisanship" or "politics without philosophy." When you have differences of opinion on political philosophy, you can explore where those philosophical differences arise and whether a compromise can be worked out on an issue that is consistent with both philosophies. If that will not be possible, the impossibility will be readily apparent, and you can move on. Moreover, you wind up at least understanding the root cause of your differences such that on future issues you may be able to work together in a way that is consistent with both aims. Thus, even when compromise is impossible, you at least walk away from the situation with at least a grudging respect for each other.

But when you are dealing with someone who engages in "pu-pu platter partisanship" or "politics without philosophy," a positive result (either compromise or at least a grudging respect without compromise) becomes impossible. This is because you cannot engage in rational discussion with someone whose political positions lack any philosophical grounding other than "the positions of the Democratic/Republican party," or "I'm for government intervention except when I'm against it." Instead, the party's position IS the philosophy, as I've argued before, even though the party's position is nothing more than the aggregate of top-priority issues of its constituent interest groups. The reason this makes rational discussion impossible is that a completely different set of logic applies to each position the person holds; the fact that this set of logic is completely inconsistent with the person's logic on another issue never crosses their mind. It is, in a word, doublethink.

When there is no philosophical underpinning to an opinion, it is impossible to engage the person on terms that they can understand. They have no ultimate goal for how society should look, and so the policy is a goal or principle unto itself and thus not subject to compromise. In order to justify such an uncompromising attitude, the individual must view the opposition as fundamentally evil and thus unworthy of acknowledgement.

And this is how you get the hyperpartisanship characterized by those who condemn Obama for (gasp!) speaking positively about Ronald Reagan, or daring to acknowledge that there is a major problem with Social Security's stability. It is also how you get the hyperpartisanship of Rush Limbaugh when he condemns John McCain for his stance on immigration and fiscal responsibility or when Republicans simply dismiss Ron Paul and anti-war activists as "Blame America Firsters."

It is my position and belief that the politician with a cogent political philosophy is the politician that is most likely to engage in bipartisanship, while the politician whose philosophy is governed primarily by his party's talking points will be the least likely to engage in bipartisanship. In the process, the principled bipartisan will actually build coalitions that achieve or work towards broad philosophic goals, while the "pu-pu platter partisan" will simply push through whatever policies he can without regard to whether the policy achieves some fundamental underlying goal.