Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Will You Shut Up, Please?!

Been reading the Federalist Papers this week, especially looking for what Hamilton, Jefferson and Jay had to say about partisanship and party politics. I’m particularly struck by what Alexander Hamilton says here(from Letter No. 1):

So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong side as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so thoroughly persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Though Hamilton uses this to set up the framework for the series of letters urging support of the U.S. Constitution over the Articles of Confederation, I find his rhetoric and passion equally applicable to partisan politics on the whole.

Everywhere in American politics today we see those false biases, that lack of moderation, and that intolerant spirit. It is as Jon Stewart said at the Democratic National Convention, “you’re either a rapture-awaiting promise keeper, or you drive a car that runs on gorp.” We’re regarded or regard each other only as rapturers or gorpers. Both parties are trying so hard to differentiate themselves that they’re driving politically moderate people like myself away, leaving us in a political netherworld that is disenfranchised because there are no politicians to our liking on the ballot. Do we vote with the rapturers or the gorpers, or, as it has been suggested, throw away our votes on the Naders and Pauls, or just don’t vote at all? Read any Internet posting or listen to any political commentary and you’ll find evidence that clearly illustrates the final point in this quote from Hamilton: “For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.” The people in agreement are agreeing with what they already agreed to, and those in opposition are falling into that “personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these” in stating their arguments and trying to persuade others. It’s easy to agree with stuff you already agree with. If someone dares ask you to consider something else, well, those false biases show up, where we cling to a cause because it’s what we’ve always clung to.

The two major parties and the media (from the left-wingers to the right-wingers) are falling into this petty trap that Hamilton warns us against. The Huffington Post is argle-bargling about the Republicans’ apparent lack of family values due to the Palin situation. Fox news is still trying to convince us that George W. Bush eats flowers and poops rainbows. I listen to both sides and want to throw the heck up, especially when the candidates from both sides say that this kind of stuff doesn’t matter, but, wink wink, if other people want to chatter about it, hey, it’s a free country. Our national judgment and most of the media messages we get are based not on sound argument, but false bias. Nowhere have we learned this lesson of moderation that Hamilton advises – simply because there’s little room for moderation. False biases in both parties get the base riled up and to the polls, while a few olive branches to the moderates convince them to vote for what frankly comes down to the lesser of two evils. As a moderate, I’m tired of that kind of non-choice.

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