I spent nearly two years in the political weeds monitoring the blathering of professional lunatics, and the experience nearly drove me mad. I learned many things during this time, but one lesson stands out above all others: Partisanship makes you stupid.
Partisanship demands total devotion to the goals of a particular party. But in a democratic republic such as America, politics is the art of negotiation with representatives of many different regions and interests to achieve specific societal goals. Partisanship and the effective practice of politics often conflict, because one who’s wedded to a certain agenda rarely deviates from it. In America, politics has become a religion, and those who dissent from one tenet of their party are often accused of treason, stupidity, or malfeasance, while facing the secular equivalent of excommunication.
The rhetoric used to condemn political opponents can be vitriolic. Commentator Michael Eric Dyson recently condemned Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is himself African-American, for helping strike down a portion of the Voting Rights Act. Dyson called Thomas “a symbolic Jew [who] has invited a metaphoric Hitler to commit holocaust and genocide upon his own people.” Earlier this summer, popular commentator Glenn Beck called Republican Senator Marco Rubio a “piece of garbage” for Rubio’s efforts to help Democrats pass immigration reform. Last year, mayors in several U.S. cities condemned Chick-fil-A, a Christian-owned restaurant chain, as a seller of “hate chicken” because its founder declared his opposition to same-sex marriage. There are many more examples of less savory forms of demonization.
It’s true that politicians should defend their core values, and that politicians who vacillate on issues merely for political advantage are political opportunists. However, the defense of one’s core values shouldn’t involve demonization of the motives of political opponents.
Understanding the reasons why one’s political opponents hold their values and positions is critical; only then can one identify the weaknesses of his or her opponents’ arguments. In the long run, conversion through logical argumentation is far more effective than name-calling.
Non-partisanship is becoming rare in America and other political climates where one principled objection to a popular policy can end political careers. Politicians who can tread the path between the Scylla of vacillation on issues and the Charybdis of toxic partisanship are becoming increasingly necessary, even as increasing polarization drives such politicians from the American political scene.