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Paul Hayden

Why Americans Should Love Partisanship

June 14, 2010

"Hey! You can't fight in here! This is the war room!"
From Dr. Strangelove

Over the last several years, Americans have gotten the impression that partisanship is an unhealthy affliction in our public discourse. Too many of us have come to believe that it is somehow important for politicians to agree to get along, even during election years. Democrats, while publicly denying their devotion to partisanship, practice it continually. Republicans, when practicing it, feel guilty and tend to make excuses for it.

Imagine if members of Congress could simply hide their party affiliation behind a non-partisan label. Picture yourself stepping into the voting booth and finding nothing on the ballot to indicate whether a candidate was a Republican, a Democrat, a Nazi or a Communist. If eliminating partisanship were the goal, then such a system would be the solution.

In fact, why not simply eliminate one House of the Congress? Let's just elect a group of erudite U.S. Senators and send all those bickering members of the House of Representatives home to find some real work. That should ensure civility in Washington.

There is, in fact, a place where just such an experiment has already been tried. Until the Great Depression, the State of Nebraska had a partisan, bicameral legislative system. As was the case in all other states at the time, the Nebraska Legislature was patterned after the United States Congress. In 1937, that all changed. Nebraska voters were hoodwinked by a liberal Republican U.S. Senator by the name of George Norris into approving an amendment to the state's constitution that created a non-partisan Unicameral Legislature the only one in the nation, before or since.

The experiment was and is a disaster. Nebraska, once known as the "white spot" of the nation (no income tax and no sales tax), now taxes its 1.7 million people at draconian levels. Norris's idealistic notion that the people, though ballot initiatives, would somehow become the state's "second house" has given way to a system where 49 state senators run roughshod over the people while hiding behind a non-partisan label. Meanwhile, the real "second house" is made up of a gaggle of lobbyists beholden to special interests.

Political parties, which exist for the purpose of articulating certain philosophical principles and for holding officeholders accountable for adhering to those principles, are essential to the continuance of the Republic. Partisanship is good. Partisanship works. It is the lifeblood of our political system and has been ever since Thomas Jefferson battled John Adams over the issue of state's rights versus a strong national government. It is in the midst of political battle that good government is forged. In the heated moments when legislators fight to articulate their political philosophies, liberal or conservative, defending them passionately until someone wins this is when history is made.

The attack on partisanship has become so ridiculous in recent years that Republican John McCain was seriously touted as a possible running mate for Democrat John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. McCain, always happy to foster his maverick image by accepting praise from liberals, did little to dampen the speculation at the time. In fact, he told a fawning press that he would actually consider such an offer because, he said, "John Kerry is my friend." This may at least partially explain why McCain is not in the White House today.

Leftist sixties radical turned conservative commentator David Horowitz, in his political handbook, "The Art of Political War," has written that, "Politics is war conducted by other means." As the nation heads toward the most important off-year election in our lifetime, one that will determine what sort of country we will be in the future, Republicans seem far too content with appeasing their opponents with civility and non-partisanship. Meanwhile, as always, Democrats prepare for war.

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Copyright ©2010 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.