Is partisan politics bad?

Criminy, but Hitchens is brilliant, of course, but how did he become so at such a young age?  Here, on C-SPAN from 1990, he, Brian, and Richard Critchfield discuss America and Britain after their recently-published and topical books.

One awesome point by Hitchens reminds me of a view about political parties that was discussed in one of my mid-1970s Political Science classes.  The view was that a two-party system was effective at assisting voting choices among the public and that consistently voting along party lines was not a bad thing.  The alternate view is the one championed on the streets in the U.S., and it is safe to say that we were all fed the same pablum notion (if from the press rather than from our parents) that “voting for the man” or “voting for the man, not the Party” was a virtue, and that voting along Party lines meant you were a simpleton, a lemming.

I grew up in a family where anything other than straight ticket voting was unthinkable, not merely out of loyalty, but more from the knowledge that your Party really was the one whose decisions, day-in-day-out, were most aligned with your views.  This had been the orientation for several generations.  Through all the Party twists and turns, adjustments and realignments.  But then came the 50s, followed by the 60s.  With somehow, the Democrats landing on the side of freedom, freedom of expression, freedom from the tyranny of “one-right-thinking”.  In my view.

My grandfather was a Republican of the old cloth.  The Party opposed to slavery.  Simplistic, yes, but generally true.  And the converse, about the Democratic Party, is also, and as generally, true.  My grandfather, a State Senator in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (tell me again why they call them State Senators if Kentucky is a Commonwealth?) and the southeastern corner of the Commonwealth, in particular, for around 30 years, brought roads into that holy corner, sponsored legislation for free textbooks so that all children had access to education, and supported much other legislation that helped the common man, the heretofore uneducated or their children.

But somewhere (my job isn’t to know all the facts about how, but if you are, feel FREE to school me in the comments because I know I need to learn it), the Parties shifted, and my little corner of my Grandfather’s blood legacy finds itself at home today in the Democratic Party.  I myself, as I love to hear Hitchens say, find it insulting to be considered that far right.  I find it amusing to think that it is extreme to want corporations so radically transformed that it will require generations to redesign a smooth system.  But that’s just me.  Smile.

Chances are, if my brilliant father were alive, he could explain to me why he was still a Republican, much in the same way that I can follow Hitchens’ logic about the war on Iraq, and understand that he might be onto something, although I may not agree.  Maybe Dad could explain to me why his Republicanism was an approach that could work.  But since there’s no Republican alive with the mental faculties of my deceased father, I’m afraid I’m doomed to die unable to hear across that ethical divide.

I’m not sure that I would be up to the task of communicating to my father, in the same way, about why the Democratic Party of today best represents the values of my Grandfather.  I think if I skip past my father, however, to my grandfather, or even to my grandfather’s father, I think I might more easily converse and would find a Republican who understood why I was a Democrat and would, if living today, switch Parties.

So, to the original point, that we have been fed this line that voting straight ticket is bad, and voting-for-the-man is good.  Here’s what I think: someone likes the Party lines to be less than clear, to keep us confused, so that we really never quite know what we’re getting on Election Day, so that we’re not sure if it weren’t our fault when certain policies are championed by our chosen, so that maybe next Election Day, we won’t be that motivated to vote, because it didn’t work out so well the last time.  You know what I mean.

Remind me.  What’s wrong with having Parties with clear principles stated clearly?

I still remember that day in Poli Sci, when I first heard the concept that Party Politics is a useful tool.  And find myself this morning hearing Hitchens speak to that topic, in the context of a comparative of the UK and USA, in his casual, youthful elegance.

Loaded by onto YouTube by The Film Archive.  The transcription beneath the video begins at 7:55, but as, usual, I recommend listening to all and then going to the Film Archive to watch the entire program.

What I think I most miss by living here – and I agree with the lady that the British committee system is no good and the American hearings are a lot better – is simply the idea of the word “partisan.”  I can’t stand the fact that in American political discussion, the word “bipartisan” is used to mean automatically very good, everyone trying to agree, everyone wanting to think and say the same thing, and that one of the worst things you can say of somebody is, they’re taking a partisan view, as if, if we go on like this, before we know where we are, we’ll have two parties.  In other words, a one-party state mentality enforced in a sort of consensus talk and babble. . .

          –  Christopher Hitchens

2 responses to “Is partisan politics bad?

  1. We are alive when we are still capable of changing our mind. Whether politically or philosophically, we have to think and rethink again and again, debate and reevaluate.
    I’m also of the opinion that many times our elected presidents react to situations that were never imagined by them and the party, while running for office, hence it’s not only one’s politics that matters, but their ability to imagine the future and to react wisely to the unimagined.

  2. Totally agree. I just think that the parties can serve an important function: to stand for something. To be counted on to stand for that, otherwise perhaps we needn’t have a party system in our politics at all.

    But I’m definitely for thinking, evaluating, turning over in one’s own mind.

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