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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 1999 /22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Necessary Partisanship --
THERE IS EVIL abroad in the land, and we call it by its name. It is partisanship. On this, right-thinkers agree.

Al Gore, a dedicated right-thinker, declared himself, in a recent interview with The Washington Post's David S. Broder, to be the passionate opponent of the "nearly poisonous" partisanship that infects Washington. He swore to end such "bitterness and hostility" when he became president. Gore said he would say to the nation: "We are all Democrats; we are all Republicans."

And so sayeth Bill Bradley, too. Following a speech to magazine publishers in Boca Raton, Fla., last week, Bradley took the obligatory question: Look here, just what did the candidate intend to do about the partisanship that was ruining governance? The candidate swore that he had always been against that sort of thing himself, and he promised that a President Bradley would work around the obstructionist partisans to craft the laws for the good of all.

Of all the manifestly utter nonsense of politics, surely this is the most manifest and the utterest. Gore and Bradley are competing for the nomination of the Democratic Party. The winner of this competition will run against the nominee of the Republican Party. Then, and for some months, the two nominees will savage each other not just in personal terms but in terms of party. Each will paint the other as the representative of a partisan ideology that is, each will be regrettably compelled to say, corrupt to the core, bad for the people and quite possibly un-American. The inevitable result will be a great victory not just for one or the other man but for one or the other party. It is in this unlikely context that these two men preach bipartisanship.

Yes, but that is just the jolly give-and-take of the political season, Gore and Bradley and other right-thinkers might say. What we are talking about here is that which occurs after, and which transcends, the season--the great and glorious business of governing for all. It is at this point that the argument becomes not only silly and stupid but dangerous.

Politics is governance. Partisanship is governance. Partisanship is good. Partisanship is how we make the whole great and unlikely experiment continue to work; partisanship is why America continues to lurch along more or less toward progress.

Imagine that, every day, we--each and every one of us citizens--greet the dawn possessed of our own little intact tabula rasa of a worldview. We jump out of bed, brush our teeth, comb our hair, pluck our navel lint and saunter out into the great wide world perfectly and honestly prepared to consider each and every new proposal for societal change that presents itself to our entirely open minds. We wouldn't be able to think, much less govern, our way through a week.

Life is chaos, and the first order of government is to impose order on chaos. A moral government imposes a moral order, which is to say, the order of the wishes of the majority, tempered by the needs of the collective and the rights of the minority.

Moral government rests absolutely upon partisanship. In a nation of democratic impulse, the people naturally, eventually, sort themselves out. Some are abolitionists and some are defenders of the peculiar institution; some are supporters of The Great War or The Good War or The Vietnam War and some are not; some are capitalists and some are unionists and some are environmentalists; some are for civil rights and some are for states' rights; some are pro-life and some are pro-choice; some love big government and some loathe it.

As the people coalesce around their choices, they naturally give rise to mass ideologies. Political parties naturally form to express and institutionalize these ideologies. Between the opposing parties, there is naturally a fight. One ideology-party, representing at least a plurality of the people, triumphs and reigns for a period. Then the other (or another altogether) ideology-party stirs itself, and there is another fight. And so on, and--thank G-d and the Framers--on.

The current phase of politics is frequently and ludicrously caricatured in the press as a time of bipartisan me-tooism. Most voters do not believe the work of the media cartoonists, who are possessed not of insight but ennui, and the voters are right. We live in fact in a classic period of ideological-partisan warfare, which began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and in which two radically differing worldviews are engaged in an epochal struggle to determine which should rule the nation. This is a large event, and it is a noble one.

And it is, necessarily, partisan.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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