Saturday, April 10, 2010

Partisanship Nation, and what a good thing that is.

Here’s why; Senators on unemployment insurance extension:
“It is theft,” said…[Sen. Tom] Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. Adding the spending to the deficit, he said, is essentially stealing from future generations.

To Democrats like Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the real injustice is holding up badly needed aid for struggling Americans even though Congress has traditionally sped relief in the event of natural disasters and other calamities without worrying about red ink.

“It is as if a tornado hit their home or a flood wiped out their community,” Mr. Harkin said of those relying on unemployment checks because of the economic collapse. “It is an emergency, and we respond to emergencies with emergency spending.”

These opposite responses are why I think the current partisanship is inevitable and, indeed, perhaps desirable. If one side believes unemployment insurance increasing the deficit is theft and the other believes unemployment is a natural disaster whose victims must be comforted, then there’s no middle ground, is there? If one side believes abortion is murder and the other does not, then there’s no middle ground, is there? The majority of questions you can ask about the two-party divide conform pretty closely to this analysis.

The Obama persuasion of politics, and what people tend to think about politics, is that there are compromises and commonalities to be found. The problem, it suggests, is in each side’s lack of empathy for the other. I’d suggest that this is true, but not the way we’d like it to be true. We understand perfectly well what the respective sides are about. What we misunderstand is the depth of the respective side’s commitment…when you ask the question, surely Republicans don’t believe Obama is a socialist et. al., the sad answer—if you’re a Democrat—is that they actually do. Republicans, I’m sure, misunderstand in the same way. When you have depths of commitment that run so deep, naturally compromise is impossible. How many of the great political problems our nation has faced met with less than implacable opposition? How many times was compromise the main method of attack of these problems?

The problem is that the use of political implements has matched the depth of commitment of the parties: the filibuster, the hold—in short, the Senate. The cultural norms that once made the Senate work have changed, probably irreparably. Since they have, let’s change the official rules to recognize that the parties and the people who vote for them are committed and strongly so. Otherwise you’d seem to be disrespecting their commitment.

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