Don’t Fear Partisanship

The left absolutely loves to call conservatives hopelessly “partisan.” It’s their favorite label to attach to us, bar none. Make no mistake, it’s an effective attack. The word itself sounds harsh, even angry. Partisan. Most people would agree that the word has extremely negative connotations in modern American political culture. Consider the backlash Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock (R-IN) endured in May for the following comments:

“I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view. We entered this campaign wanting to be a voice, and hoping to give more of a national voice to the idea that Republicans and more specifically conservatives would be a majority of the United States Senate…

…If we do that, bipartisanship means they have to come our way, and if we’re successful in getting the numbers, we’ll work toward that. You know, I would want to confront, not so much people, but the issues that are really out there that are really causing us to be in the economic crisis that we’re in.”

I understand the reflexive backlash over Mourdock’s statement, I honestly do. Bipartisanship has become a sacred word in America. We love bipartisanship. We want more of it. If forced to define partisanship, most Americans would say something along the lines of “Republicans and Democrats working together.” Doesn’t Mourdock want that? Don’t we have real problems that we need to address? Why is he being so partisan?

I would argue that “partisan” shouldn’t be a dirty word in American politics. If you think about it, being partisan over something just means that you actually believe in the argument you’re making and in your political philosophy.

Let’s use government spending cuts as an example. If you’re a conservative and you look at today’s federal government, you’ll probably want to cut spending. You sincerely believe that government is spending too much and burdening future generations with an enormous pile of debt. While you can understand why liberals would be reluctant to cut spending, you’re certain that we’re on the edge of fiscal disaster and that we can’t keep procrastinating on fiscal responsibility.

So, you’re a United States Senator. A new appropriations bill comes up for a vote, and it’s big. Several of your liberal colleagues have met with you in order to sway your vote. They’ve stuck in some provisions to send dollars to your state. A new children’s hospital will be named after you, or even your spouse. They’re giving your favorite issue more money and more attention. They’ve made compromises to get your vote. They’ve reached across the aisle, they’ve been friendly, they’ve made a sincere effort to be bipartisan.

You vote against the appropriations bill. You admit that you liked some parts of the bill, but insist that it would simply spend too much money. You know that it’s time to spend less, not more. You’re sure of it.

Your “no” vote is enough to defeat the bill. Everyone identified you as the swing vote, you’re the one whose vote could’ve gotten it passed. There are important functions of government that need funding, and without the appropriations bill passing, it’s possible that the money will come up short.

The backlash is quick, and it’s fierce. You’re lambasted by media pundits for your partisan vote. Everyone knows how far the Democrats went to get your vote. They gave you so much, and you couldn’t budge an inch? You must’ve voted that way because you blindly voted with your party. You must’ve voted that way because you don’t like the President. You must’ve voted that way because you’re a hopeless ideologue.

You’re partisan. The idea that all of those “compromises” were just window-dressing doesn’t come up. The concept that you could’ve voted “no” because you sincerely, with your whole heart, believed that it was the right thing to doisn’t mentioned.

“Bipartisanship” in Washington D.C. usually means that the big-government wing of the Republican Party agreed to vote for a progressive idea in exchange for some earmarks or surface-level changes to make the bill sound better to voters. They’ll agree to vote for an entitlement program, but maybe they’ll insist that the bill provides fewer, cheaper benefits than in the original proposal. Progressives get most of the entitlement program they wanted, and Republicans get to keep their “tough on spending” image intact. Everybody wins through these kinds of backroom deals, except for the American people.

Let’s take another look at Mourdock’s statement, particularly the line that launched a thousand furious blog posts. “”I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.” Consider this quote for a minute. The essence of what Mourdock is saying is: I believe that we conservatives are right when we talk about cutting spending and reining in the size of government in accordance to the Constitution. We do actually believe in what we’re saying. We’re more interested in doing what we’re sure is right than in reaching across the aisle for its own sake.

For progressives and the media, this really is a radical view. They sincerely believe the political philosophy and policy solutions of conservatives are completely wrong. Even more importantly, they’re sure that we know we’re wrong. We know we’re wrong, but for any number of reasons (political gamesmanship, blind party loyalty, corporate money, hatred of President Obama/poor people/minorities/whatever), we just refuse to admit it. They truly believe that we’re just being stubborn. Partisan, in other words.

Why do they think that? Because they’re partisans! They’re so partisan, they believe so overwhelmingly that their political philosophy and policy solutions  are simply correct, that they refuse to admit that we might even have a point. They’re blind to the idea that we might actually mean what we say. This is how progressives can demand Congress pass “common sense solutions” while simultaneously insisting that their bill is the only real solution to a given problem.

They’re partisan to the point of refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of conservatism as a political philosophy or conservative policy solutions. Am I criticizing them for their partisanship? Not at all. If they truly believe that they’re correct, then they should be willing to take a stand. However, I am saying that progressives are massive hypocrites when it comes to partisanship, because they don’t recognize the right of conservatives to do the same.

Partisanship isn’t blind allegiance to a person or political party. It’s not political gamesmanship. It’s not about “scoring points.” At its heart, partisanship is recognizing that there’s something true in the world and fighting for that truth. It’s taking a principled stand on something that you truly believe has no room for compromise.

Compromise is inseparable from politics and you can’t always get what you want. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, however, you must fight for what is necessary. There’s nothing wrong with being partisan. Remember that.

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About Daniel Anderson

I am a 21 year old Michigan native completing the final year of my undergraduate education at Hillsdale College. I tend to categorize my political philosophy as "constitutional conservatism." I also advocate free-market economics.
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