Sunday, December 22, 2019

What Does Being Partisan Mean?

The current political environment is overflowing with accusations of partisanship.  It started me thinking about what constitutes partisanship. 

It seems to me partisanship is one end of a spectrum of behaviors involving disagreements on how, as a country, we coexist in a manner that produces peace and prosperity.

As a democracy there are always going to be different viewpoints.  People have different backgrounds, different life experiences, and, I believe, we are all endowed with slightly different brain organization that influences our perceptions.  But to be a functioning and peaceful democracy we need ground rules on acceptable disagreement.  

History suggest ground rules like civility, and formal procedures for resolving disagreements are useful, but ultimately the crucial value in making good public policy is respect for facts.

Disagreements over matters where there is no underlying factual context to provide guidance is not partisan - it's just having a different view of a problem.  Those disagreement behaviors rely on civility and process to smooth over rough spots. 

The other end of the spectrum of disagreement is where people use personal attacks, platitudes, misdirection or simply lies to distract from inconvenient facts that impact the view of the world the speaker wants to promote.  To me that is the purest form of partisanship. Unfortunately that form of partisanship can thrive within the framework of civility and process if tolerated by voters.
It is difficult for any politician to resist partisanship.  Their ambitions and livelihood rely on promoting a particular point of view.  They invest years, and build a career, based on a particular point of view.  If facts turn out to show their view is misguided, it is a rare politician that can acknowledge that they were promoting ideas that did not in fact turn out to be as beneficial as they represented.

Voters without political ambition may support a particular point of view for years and develop an emotional attachment to that view.  But our careers and livelihood are not generally impacted if we change our view in light of facts.  However, if we indulge emotionally comforting views by disregarding facts we as a country will make bad public policy choices.  Those choices will affect our long term interests, and the interests of our children and grandchildren.  

We as voters need to understand the difference between speaking different world views, and partisanship.  If we are not clear on the differences between holding different political views and partisanship, and cannot distinguish between disagreement and partisanship, politicians certainly won't.

1 comment:

lloyd said...

Nicely stated, Jan. If only we could get voters and candidates to use these definitions, there would certainly be better understanding and decisions. Lloyd