Monday, September 16, 2013

Treating the disease of partisanship


By Bill Kraus

The first step is admitting it is incurable. But it can be treated, ameliorated, contained. For most. Not all. The yellow dogs are beyond treatment and have no interest in being treated. They are addicted and wallow in their addiction. The anarchists have a different disease altogether. They think the government can and should simply go away.

The yellow dogs want their opponents to go away and take their “wrong-headed” ideas with them. They reduce policy and decisions to their basics: who proposed them. If Scott Walker or Peter Barca promised a second coming and eternal life, the yellow dogs of the Republican or Democratic persuasions can be counted on to be against both.

The yellow dogs want to partisanize everything and will reject the second step of my treatment program which is to clean up the definition. There are many politically explosive issues that are not politically partisan.

Gay marriage for openers. Marriage itself is a sanctifying ritual which some religions offer to anyone and some do not. Since this particular partnership comes with some social advantages, the government which offers those advantages gets into the act. No government should tell any religious order what they can sanctify. No religious order should tell any government what advantages they can offer to whom.

Gun control is fundamentally a geographical issue not a partisan one. The need for and attachment to guns in less heavily settled places has nothing to do with the undeniable hazards of over-arming the populace in the denser cities where most of us now live. There may need to be two sets of rules, but they needn’t be based on partisan political preferences.

I know of no one who is in favor of abortions. The debate on this subject, also non-partisan, is on who and how the abortion decisions should be made. It may never be settled. It should not be a partisan issue that is settled at the ballot box.

Having put the incurables and the wrong disease factions aside it is possible to deal with excessive partisanization itself.

First we have to deal with the smashmouth strategies that drive our media-heavy campaigns. Depersonalization is desirable. An end to demonization is essential. The people who stand for public office should be praised for doing what few of us have the guts to do. This is a difficult and honorable trade. The campaigns for these offices should be about why they are standing for public office which is plenty contentious not about their personal saintliness or lack of it.

Second, voters should adopt the Ed Koch rule. “If you agree with me on 9 of 12 ideas that I have,” he once said, “you should vote for me. If you agree with me on all 12, you should see a psychiatrist.” We are not choosing lemmings. We are choosing people like our flawed selves. We are choosing people who we think are capable of coming to the best possible solutions to the most difficult problems that we face as a society and as individuals in this ever-more-complicated world we live in.

Partisans are quick with simplistic answers. An entire book written by a Nobel Prize winner explains why we go for these fast and easy solutions and why this is usually a terrible mistake (It’s called Thinking Fast and Slow, and I recommend it.) A long-term solution to the partisanship disease is slowing down, considering options, discussing, deciding after deliberating, thinking instead of screaming or even instead of singing.

This third treatment for knee-jerk partisanism is perhaps the most important one. Respect the trade and its practitioners and vote for those who do so themselves and are working on solutions not bleating slogans.

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