Radical Partisanship: Polarized American Rhetoric Nullifying Effective Policy
By: Jawanza James Williams
Radical oppositions to opposing ideals are found at the ground zero of most conflicts. The current state of the United States' political rhetoric is rife with unfounded accusations and contentions produced by the simple difference in political party association. The legislature, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are alarmingly compromised by the negative inclinations of partisanship. The United States is in economic and social turmoil and it is the result of numerous causes, partisanship being arguably the root cause of the immobilization of congress. Radical partisanship is deconstructing the productive bicameral legislature in the United States and eroding sociological relations in the country; therefore, causing a distinctly aggressive polarity. A polarized voting population causes issues in progression in the country and the primary initiator of the disruption is partisan politics and the issue must be addressed.
Partisanship is the association with a particular political party, an individual associating with one of the country's parties being a partisan. In the context of this discussion and the research cited, partisanship refers to the extreme and generally negatively connoted ideological identification. More specifically, if an individual is associated with the Democratic party relative to the Republican party, he or she will support any policy placed to a vote even if they do not necessarily agree, and more often than not, block the opposing party's suggestion at all cost. It is not simply blocking opposing policies that is the issue, it is not entertaining them because of the party origin and ignoring the real-world problem for the sake of politics.
Polarization is the bi-product of partisanship in the United States. Polarization being the significant and damaging separation of American citizens ideologically. This issue feeds into a cyclical manifestation of social conflicts. For instance, because people are polarized, it promotes partisanship, which in turn promotes polarization. These cycles are encouraged by politics of fear which have its own destructive qualities. Irrational fear propagated by politics is how atrocities like the Holocaust begin, or the legalization then revocation of same-sex marriage rights in California, to make a less extreme example.
Grass-root movements that arise in support of a particular political party lends to the destructive nature of partisanship. One such movement is the Tea Party. In an Oxford University study conducted by James Tilley and Sarah B. Hobolt titled Is The Government to Blame? An Experimental Test of How Partisanship Shapes Perceptions of Performance and Responsibility, the voter population is analyzed and the the effects of partisanship is discussed in depth. Tilley and Hobolt highlight the power of partisan politics illuminating the influence of political party,
The idea that voters use elections to hold governments to account for their performancelies at the heart of democratic theory, and countless studies haveshown that economicperformance can predict support for incumbents. Nonetheless recent work haschallenged this simple link between policy performance and party choice by arguing thatany relationship is conditioned by prior political beliefs, notably partisanship (Tilley andHobolt).
Tiley and Hobolt in the quotation above speak of the psychological impact of not only the state of the economy during an administration but how through the lens of partisanship ideas can vary significantly. For example, because of the overwhelmed economy, because of two wars primarily, President Obama inherited an abnormally complicated host of national issues. So the American public, because of organizations like the Tea Party and simply an association with the Republican party, will lend to an innate expectation of failure and responsibility for the President. Retrospectively, Democrats are likely to view any progression of the country and solving of issues will be credited to the political party they are associated with.
It is critical to realize the the deconstructive nature of partisan politics is not an exceptionally new phenomena; however, it appears to be much more defined than in previous generations. Joshua Gordon of the Concord Coalition discusses the influence of partisanship in congress, “ The primary reason for the HAC’s weakening is that the highly ideological partisanship that engulfed the House of Representatives from 1994-2002, undermined the historical supports for internal unity within the House Appropriations Committee (Gordon). The HAC is the House Appropriations Committee. Gordon's work in his article The (Dis)Integration of The House Appropriations Committee: Revisiting the Power of the Purse in Partisan Era on the beginning of partisanship and its influence monetarily in congress. Gordon writes in his article, “After extensive participant-observation of the committee and supplemental quantitative analysis, I increasingly came to the view that the social system described by Fenno for the 1950s and 1960s, and which appears to have survived into the early 1990s, deteriorated markedly in the face of the Republican revolution of the 90s” (Gordon). Based off the interpretations of Gordon it is clear that partisanship doe not only have social implications but fiscal. Partisan politics can corrupt at government systems, and as Gordon is discussing, even disrupt organization that primary objective is to keep governmental powers checked.
Another issue of partisan politics is the issue of the voters having to determine exactly what politicians that have been elected to blame for the failure of any given policy. More specifically, voters tend to vote for a particular party rather than an individual politician. The exceptions are the smaller parties in the United States like the Independents or Libertarians, however, they are not large enough in numbers to nominate their own candidate so generally they have to choose from one of the major party's representatives. Adam R. Brown of Brigham Young University discusses the voter selection of particular candidates and how they determine who to hold responsible for any issues that arises politically, with a particular emphasis on partisan politics. In his article titled Are Governors Responsible for the State Economy? Partisanship, Blame, and Divided Federalism, Brown discusses the influence of partisan associations in relation to divisions of criticism of the president or the particular states governor. Brown's main premise is that partisanship determines which office, federal or state, a voter will blame for failed policies.
Brown writes in his article, “Americans rely heavily on partisan shortcuts when deciding whether to hold their governor (as opposed to the president) responsible for state-level policy outcomes—especially when functional responsibility for a particular policy area is shared by both the governor and the president” (Brown). Voters are less concerned with the actual outcome of policies if they come from an opposing party. This is a serious issue because it undermines the actions of the government and it abusing the power of democracy. Brown goes on to say, in relation to the previous quotation, “Of course, it’s far from novel to suggest that partisanship matters in American politics; previous research has shown abundantly that voters tend to have more patience with politicians of their own party than with politicians from the other side” (Brown). To put Brown's point clearly and bluntly, people do not want to entertain any solution from opposing parties because of partisanship.
The effects of partisanship can seem non-existent if examples are not given that clearly demonstrate the negative qualities. The examples are plentiful across both major political parties, however, for the interest of this argument, an emphasis will be placed on the current Obama administration and all of its complications due to partisanship.
Arguably the most significant implementation of the Obama Administration thus far has been the 2009 $787 billion economic stimulus package that saved the United States from a depression. It was critical that the economy be stimulated by such large amounts of cash flow because many large corporations that carry the economy would fail causing the country to spiral into a depression similar to that of the 1939 depression. The Obama administration, despite clear economical evidence, faced serious opposition from republicans, as stated by Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, “After the economy tanked last fall, every sentient economist, including the top economic advisers to Ronald Reagan and John McCain, knew that we needed a large stimulus to avoid a depression. It looked like the new president would get at least a handful of GOP members of the House and as many as 20 Senate Republicans. Then, before even listening to Obama's pitch, House Minority Leader John Boehner sent out the word: no” (Alter). The issue being illustrated here is that despite the obvious need of the country, politics deterred the stabilization of the economy, for strictly partisan associations. The argument that republicans made was that tax cuts for the rich would suffice and that government spending is never a good thing, despite the evidence, “ Republicans made up a story that they had no chance to voice their views (the bills were, in fact, marked up in public sessions) and claimed that tax cuts are a better stimulus than government spending, which is demonstrably false” (Alter).
The health care bill drafted and implemented by the Obama administration faced serious opposition in congress and despite it being passed, is still facing constant threats of repeal. The healthcare bill is primarily concerned with health coverage for the poor with an emphasis on preventative care. Republican opposition is rooted in the idea that no one should have to pay for another person's health insurance. They contend that the bill requiring people to purchase insurance is unconstitutional and that it is of a socialist origin. The socialism argument feeds into the polarization of the voting population. For the sake of politics, the country is much more concerned with refuting the solution provided by the Obama administration, primarily because of partisanship. There is not a comprehensive solution being drafted by the right, only opposition to movements by the democratic party.
The Economist reports in a 2009 issue “Moderate Democrats are reluctant to pin their names to a bill [Healthcare] that conservatives are branding as big government and anti-business. The House proposal has also been criticized by non-partisan outfits including the Mayo Clinic, a respected hospital chain” (Economist). The fact that there has to be any reluctance to support a bill that are in opposition of Republican ideals, which parties “owning” ideas is a serious issue that bolsters partisanship and inhibits the effectiveness of the United States' government. Partisanship affects every element of American life and this can become incredibly dangerous, like here where people who will now be able to afford healthcare, that affordability being threatened.
The deconstruction of the United States' government due to polarization caused by partisanship is clearly an issue of high concern. So there must be solutions to “fix” the state of politics to ensure that the nation can effectively function. In a 2010 Time magazine article Donna Brazile, who is an esteemed democratic strategist, is quoted saying, “I probably shouldn't say this--it's the definition of biting the hand that feeds me. It's time to abolish punditry. If your only credentials are 'GOP shill' or 'Democratic hack,' you've no business cluttering up the airwaves or the op-ed pages. My mama always told me that if you don't know what you're talking about, it's best to keep your mouth shut" (Time). Brazile is speaking about getting rid of extreme partisanship. Fortunately, because Brazile is a registered democrat and still sees the issue with partisanship. Brazile is participating in a growing dialogue in politics about shifting focus away from party and to the individual candidate.
President Obama during the months before his eventual election and far into his presidency he has advocated for bipartisan participation, obviously to no avail. But to solve such a deeply sewn issue in American politics, vying for bipartisanship in a hostile environment is critical to produce eventual change. Lizza Ryan of the New Yorker references Obama's plans for bipartisanship, “In 2006, Obama published a mild polemic, "The Audacity of Hope," which became a blueprint for his 2008 Presidential campaign. He described politics as a system seized by two extremes. "Depending on your tastes, our condition is the natural result of radical conservatism or perverse liberalism," he wrote” (Ryan). This illustrates that not one person can eradicate the issue of partisanship, even the most powerful individual in the world, the American president.
Through years of conversation and objective observation I have developed my own particular suggestions to deal with partisan politics. The first is to remove “partisan friendly” voting ballots. When there is an election for either, county, state, or national offices, there should not be a “click here for all democrat” button. This lends to the polarizing elements of the simple election. For instance, people who vote for a particular party and only for that party would have to know which candidate is representative of their ideas. If there is not a letter next to a candidates name nor a select all button, then the individual voter would be required to at least have some understanding of who the candidate is and what his or her key policies will be. Of course, most people who vote know before they arrive to the booth know who they intend to support, but nonetheless, removal of all party identification elements of election ballots could possibly have some effect on who is elected and why.
Another solution that I propose is to require members of congress to sign a bipartisanship participation oath. More specifically, a document being drafted by congress itself where the new member of congress must agree to not oppose a particular bill or idea simply because it is not originated from their associated party. Obviously, people will still be people and do what they feel is best, however it is more of a symbolic gesture that communicates the importance of a balanced congress. Perhaps there could be a consequence clause in this hypothetical bipartisanship participation oath, where if an individual congressman could be put on trial, on the grounds of blatant partisanship, that could if continuously repeated be grounds for seat revocation. This suggestion could be viewed as radical, because it destabilizes the member of congress, but perhaps that is what is needed. Once in office, politicians can become comfortable, and in the safety of their political party, they unleash an ideological war against opposing ideas, and more often than not, it is unfounded.
Partisanship politics places a strain on the political systems of the United States so much that it causes a sever polarity in the country that is not productive. It is similar to the post-civil war north versus south ideology in the United States. The United States must live up to its name and seek unity. Congress must have more temperate approach to political dialogue. Creating an arena of diplomatic dialogue delivered in a peaceful and understanding manner is the first step that congress must take to deal with the issues of partisanship. And dealing with the partisanship issue in the country will slowly begin to chip away at the polarity of voters in the country. The benefits are infinite because a relaxed rhetoric fosters peace.
-Jawanza James Williams
Alter, Jonathan. "Poof Goes The Purple Dream." Newsweek 153.8 (2009): 33. AcademicSearch Complete. Web. 21 June 2012.
Brown, Adam R. "Are Governors Responsible For The State Economy? Partisanship, Blame, Divided Federalism."Journal Of Politics 72.3 (2010): 605-615. Academic SearchComplete. Web. 21 June 2012.
Gordon, Joshua. "The (Dis)Integration Of The House Appropriations Committee: RevisitingThe Power of The Purse In A Partisan Era." Conference Papers -- American PoliticalScienceAssociation (2003): 1-39. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 June 2012.
Lizza, Ryan. "The Obama Memos." New Yorker 87.46 (2012): 36-49. Academic SearchComplete. Web. 21 June 2012.
"Talking Heads." Time 175.20 (2010): 16. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 June 2012.
Tilley, James, and Sara B. Hobolt. "Is The Government To Blame? An Experimental Test OfHowPartisanship Shapes Perceptions Of Performance And Responsibility." Journal OfPolitics 73.2 (2011): 316-330. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 June 2012.
"What Now For Obamacare?." Economist 392.8642 (2009): 23-24. Academic SearchComplete. Web. 21 June 2012.
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