Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Tuesday with McKenna: Partisanship

It's a new week, and we have a new quote in the banner. The only hint I'll offer is that our quote is from one of the classics of 20th century literature; and probably without even realizing it, Terry McKenna (below) refers to our author's most significant message. On Friday, we'll post the source and honor any correct responders.

Now, on to Monday with McKenna, which arrives a day late this week. Today, Terry covers a theme that I touched on last week. It's a topic that is worth more thought, however, because it highlights the difficulty inherent in living a decent human life amid a capitalist society—even for those of us who happen to feel that capital itself is not an evil.

In his Thursday offering , Brian outlined our recent encounter with partisanship from the left. Since I’m the guilty party in this little drama (my Republican identity was sufficient cause for our rejection by a liberal ad broker) I thought I’d add my 2 cents about partisanship.

My perspective is that of a suburban voter – the sort of voter that Democrats need if they are going to push their national totals above the borderline 49 – 50%. I’m not an active Republican, and haven’t voted for any of their national candidates since before Ronald Reagan. When my conscience was being formed, the Republican party included senators from places like New Jersey and New York who supported the graduated (progressive) income tax and liberal social issues such as civil rights. My political heroes were men like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and senators like Clifford Case and Margaret Chase Smith. You can still read her famous speech condemning Republican fascism

Republicans typically believed that government should provide services such as public health and education. The National Parks system and the interstate highway system were very much Republican ideas. Of course, since Reagan, that party has been taken apart piece by piece. My heroes have been replaced by folks like Karl Rove, Bill Frist and Tom Delay. Moderate Republicans are as rare as the Whigs of old.

Partisanship has always been a double edged sword. You need partisanship when you want to round up a crowd of supporters to make noise on behalf of your man. But in order to mobilize your partisans, you need to create a culture of blind obedience. The Republican echo chamber is just such a network. As soon as the talking points are delivered, the partisans make their way out to the Blogosphere and the cable talk shows to deliver their message. That’s how the spin was delivered on policies such as tax cuts – that’s also how the phrase “cut and run” became so wide spread. So far the Democrats haven’t been able to assemble the same level of rabid true believers, but if we are to take folks like Chris Bowers at their word, the Democrats would like to. Rabid partisanship may work for an election cycle or two - but if we look at what has happened with the Republican party, the scheme would soon unravel as policy becomes the servant of rhetoric.

And if you understand the implications of partisanship taken to extremes, please read about the disorder in Germany during the Weimar republic: The failure of the left and right to find some common ground led to the dictatorship of Adolph Hitler. The ultimate partisan is the Brown Shirt.

If we are interested in solutions, we need to find common ground.

Let’s look at a few issues that stand as examples of how the failure to come together IS the problem. And yes, we’ve gone through this exercise before, but it remains a lesson that we seem never to learn.

Let’s start off with the managing of our nation’s forests. It’s well understood that one way of maintaining forest health is to remove old, burnt and damaged trees and brush (I do the same in my garden to improve my tomatoes). Yet it’s also clear that the push to open forests for sound brush clearing can be used as a smoke screen to allow the government to get the loggers back into forests that are currently closed. Then we have legitimate fears from the forest industry that it’s better if the US produces wood from managed forests than to rely on wood sources from the unmanaged forests of southeast Asia. Our forests can be managed to produce wood for the foreseeable future – the virgin forests of Southeast Asia will produce maybe one crop before being logged out. But no Democrat will admit to allowing some logging to occur for fear of facing an electoral firestorm of protest from environmental lobbyists. And Republicans risk a similar reaction from the right if they attempt to compromise with Democrats.

And what about Energy? Energy could be the key issue for the next 50 years. A good start would be to force manufacturers to increase gas mileage (increase the CAFE standard) and for the production of energy, we really ought to consider options like nuclear energy. And the left should concede on the need to allow some new oil exploration (off shore? In the artic?) but the right refuses to force consumption standards and the left remains wedded to absolutist ideas about oil drilling. So the American people remain ill served by either political party.

Then we have Social Security. The other day George Bush called this an unfunded mandate – but if it is unfunded, then so is national security. It is as solid as our revenue base. But to make it survive the next 40 years, conservatives would need to be willing to raise taxes and liberals would have to agree to judicious benefit reductions. But woe to the first politician to rise above the crowd with an honest solution.

I don’t believe it is hopeless, but I do believe it will take a strong and magnetic leader who can energize the middle. But the last person who tried to lead from the middle was Bill Clinton and look what Republicans did to him.

—T. McKenna

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