Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 1999 /22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
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
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,
Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles
©1999, Washington Post Co.