Blindly Partisan and the Worse for It

Ross Douthat has an insightful word in today’s New York Times about the brain-stultifying effects of hyper-partisanship. He writes:

“Up to a point, American politics reflects abiding philosophical divisions. But people who follow politics closely — whether voters, activists or pundits — are often partisans first and ideologues second. Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing. Our ideological convictions may be real enough, but our deepest conviction is often that the other guys can’t be trusted.”

Douthat argues that the controversy over TSA searches would have gone differently had a Republican been in power. I think he is right about this.

I remember thinking something similar back in 1999 in the national debate about Elián González. Here was a young boy who was separated from his Father, but who was being kept from him by his extended family in the U.S. The reason? Because his father was in communist Cuba. The Clinton administration wanted to return González to his father, but Republicans were howling in protest. It was a sad spectacle, and I don’t know how to explain why Republicans did what they did except for partisanship. They just wanted to oppose the president. Whatever the President’s view was, they wanted to do the opposite. In this case that involved keeping a family broken.

There are countless examples of this, and it is important for Christians wishing to be salt and light to be discerning about our tendency to “reverse-engineer arguments” in order to justify whatever one’s political party happens to be doing. If we are not careful, we could compromise a matter of principle for the sake of defending “our guy.” That’s not a principled way to participate in the public square, and it will take a good measure of self-awareness to discern when you’ve slipped into this kind of thinking.

This is a helpful word from Ross Douthat. Read the rest here.

2 Responses to Blindly Partisan and the Worse for It

  1. Derek November 29, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    All due respect, Ross is wrong about Elian and wrong about the TSA.

    Opposition to the TSA’s new approach runs across party lines. There are many libertarian minded conservatives who are opposed for obvious reasons and there are many ACLU type Democrats who are opposed to them in principle. Much more could be said, but Ross is just off base here. These policies are not good and I think Americans of all political stripes will have the last word on this issue.

    Regarding Elian Gonzalez, I still think it was wrong to return him to a totalitarian state because he wasn’t truly being returned to his father as much as he was being returned to Castro for indoctrination and propaganda. To ignore those realities is in itself, reveals a certain type of partisanship.

  2. MatthewS November 29, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    This is such an important message – I wish I could communicate it better to our church. God-fearing, God-serving people can just seem to have wax in their ears when you try to find some gentle way to enter into the discussion that perhaps some of the things that are being repeated in the media are not measured and fair statements to both sides.

    Christians of all people should have ears tuned to miss the voice of the golden rule when it goes silent.

    (BTW, I don’t think I agree with the analysis of poor Elian. I suspect that his dad was under overwhelming duress, based on what I’ve heard people from Cuba say about Cuban politics. But that particular doesn’t change the general truth here, a truth with which I agree 100%)

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