A recent panel convened by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who may well be preparing to mount a third-party bid for the presidency next year, and put on by USC’s Annenberg School for Communications, was headlined, “Ceasefire! Bridging the Political Divide.”
“With the public feeling disconnected from Washington and having grown tired of the current political debate and lack of progress on major issues, this could be the most important gathering of the year,” Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, was quoted saying in the promo material.
Ah, the woes of having a two-party system. Why can’t everybody just be nice? It would be an improvement in public life if Washington were more civil nowadays, but the notion that the two parties are obsolete, or that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them, is simply wrong. The two major parties represent extremely different public philosophies. Talk of bridging the gap is really a refusal to recognize that the gap is wide and deep and meaningful. (There are, of course, crossover moments, George Bush on immigration or Joe Lieberman on the Iraq war, and sometimes the parties can work together on an issue such as human trafficking.)
I disagree with those who insist that we live in a post-partisan age. We live, in fact, in dangerous times and the Democrats and Republicans do an excellent job of setting forth very different solutions, based on different philosophical underpinnings. Democrats believe in big government, financed by the taxpayer; Republicans assert that a thriving economy, produced by tax cuts, will level the playing field and offer equal opportunities to all.
On our most important security issue “terror” the parties couldn’t do a better job of setting forth the two main paths open to us: One party would rely on policing and negotiations, while the other views the situation in? terms of an existential battle in which mere arrests and “talking to” our enemies are insufficient. Democrats may be more focused on the need to inspect every container on every transatlantic ship; Republicans, until recently, tended to focus on military solutions, which they claim go to the root of terrorism. How could the differences be clearer?
Mayor Bloomberg is the chief post-partisan in today’s political landscape. In announcing that he was leaving the Republican Party, the former Democrat decried to the New York Times that “partisanship that too often puts narrow partisan interests above the common good.” He added: “Any successful elected executive knows that real results are more important than partisan battles and that good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular political ideology. Working together, there’s no limit to what we can do.”
Surely, we would all like to work together to be all that we can be. And who’s against “real results”? Not me. As appealing as this might be, however, the quest for results sometimes leaves the issues along the path to results unaddressed. We can’t afford to skip this part of the process, even in the name of getting along with each other.
I believe that part of the appeal of what supporters call non-partisanship is that we feel it would cut down on the unseemly racket of politics. We get so much rancor emanating from Washington every night on the evening news that some nights we want to cover our ears run screaming from the room like the tormented women in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” The idea of an ideological ceasefire is thus very appealing.
But the issues confronting us are ones of life and death. Our two major political parties have extremely different ideas on how to respond. They are doing exactly what political parties should be doing, setting forth intrinsically different alternatives. We are not at a juncture in history when we can safely afford the luxury of peace and quiet.
We must listen to both our noisy political parties and then make up our minds.
Charlotte Hays is senior editor at the Independent Women’s Forum.