Partisanship and politics


in Politics, Rants

I read an article by Wells Tower in this month’s issue of Harper’s called “The Kids are Far Right” that seemed primarily meant to terrify readers with anecdotes about conference rooms crammed full of teenage conservative partisans. Many of the passages did have a chilling effect upon me, but I think the piece is more important for what it reveals about conviction, deliberation, and the nature of political consensus that for the direct observations included.

The most difficult kind of politics to deal with theoretically is the variety based upon a zero-sum consensus on who is right, and who can impose their views. Under such an order, the key elements of certain issues are no longer really under discussion: people have taken positions and are preparing to fight it out as can best be managed. While I intuitively feel as though it’s important for there to be a real discussion, there is no escaping the desperate twinge that accompanies reading about people who want to auction the national parks to timber companies, take education entirely out of the hands of government, and who believe that the greatest injustice relating to Hurricane Katrina was the police taking away some people’s guns. “Live and let live” is not a dictum that can be applied when the contest is over institutions and resources that are in contention between dissenting groups, especially when they are likely to be used to force certain modes of living upon the ‘losers’ of the political struggle.

People who adopt the kind of xenophobic, militaristic, and anti-government perspective highlighted in the Harper’s article seem, to me, outside the sphere in which political discussion can take place. That said, they probably feel likewise about people who believe that in an ideal world, natural resources would be managed internationally, that nobody in a well-ordered society has reason to own a personal firearm, or that governments should get out of the business of defining who can or cannot get married.

There is considerable attraction in the idea of moderation: both as something with inherent value and a mechanism for convincing the undecided. That said, regardless of your political leanings there are things about which it is intolerable to argue feebly. To be forceful, honest, and convincing in expressing moral and political views is profoundly difficult in a partisan environment. When surrounded by those who agree, the danger is that of slipping into the kind of irresponsible certainty that the Harper’s article indirectly accuses the conservative conference of fostering. When surrounded by those with a profoundly different view, the danger is to mount an overly insular and reactionary defence. In either case, the difficulty of dealing with profound differences of opinion is underscored.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous November 16, 2006 at 9:12 pm

Abortions for all!


Alright, abortions for no-one!”


Abortions for some… miniature American flags for others!


Mike Kushnir November 17, 2006 at 2:28 am

the above is one of my favourite simpsons quotations.

sadly, in situations where populations are large and there are few common themes (i.e. do we fight terrorism or do we fight poverty?), that’s pretty much the way it is and the way it will be, ad infinitum.

it’s sad, but the human track record doesn’t look so good in this respect.


ps. it’s worth bringing up that even moderation has its opponents (in the united states, this goes without saying).

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: