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Partisanship Without Further Delay

June 10, 2006

Every once in a while I am reminded of the falsity of the caricatures we are constantly subjected to regarding politicians, especially Republican politicians. I have always had a viscerally negative reaction to Tom DeLay, not for his politics, which I really know very little about (except that he was a very effective leader, and the Democrats therefore hated him), but because of his oily appearance. It was a very shallow reaction, but that’s what political fortunes are made and lost on. In fact, I think you could make an argument that much derision of Bush rides on that very dynamic. I know it used to bother me.

Politicians are people too- tasked with making difficult choices, tempted by all manner of worldly rewards, always subject to scorn by their enemies. I think it must be a very difficult job, a strange mixture of tedium and frustration on one side- for the world changes very slowly – and a barroom brawl excitement and intoxicating power on the other. I certainly don’t want their job. Neither do I want to criticize it lightly.

I like ideas. I am also fascinated by what it takes to put ideas into action. This is the job of politicians. Note the plural. Although the myth of the independent politician is indeed an alluring one, in the long run, the only way to get things done is to team up: that is, work together as a party.

All that to say, I was extremely impressed by the closing remarks offered by the reviled über-partisan : (H/T: Hugh Hewitt)

In preparing for today, I found that it is customary in speeches such as these to reminisce about the good old days of political harmony and across-the-aisle camaraderie, and to lament the bitter, divisive partisan rancor that supposedly now weakens our democracy.

Well, I can’t do that because partisanship, Mr. Speaker, properly understood, is not a symptom of democracy’s weakness but of its health and its strength, especially from the perspective of a political conservative.

Moderation, independence and bi-partisanship are extremely tempting ideals, especially I think to well-meaning Christians who are interested in promoting harmony, civility and fairness in pubic life. Indeed, who could be against those things? Yet I find that these ideas are often not the result of any well-reasoned argument about the particulars of a situation, but have become a policy in itself. Especially if you are in the minority party, it may be the only argument you have left that has any political leverage. That in itself doesn’t invalidate it, but it is one area where I do begin to question the motives of those that advocate it.

Indeed, the common lament over the recent rise in political partisanship is often nothing more than a veiled complaint instead about the recent rise of political conservatism.

Sadly, a practice began a few decades of go, which has gradually increased, that instead of arguing the merits of their policies, Democrats all to often argue that their opponents are racist, sexist, homophobic– or immoderate. <sentence modified to remove an awful gaffe!>

Had liberals not fought us tooth and nail over tax cuts and budget cuts and energy and Iraq, and partial-birth abortion, those of us on this side of the aisle could only imagine all the additional things we could have accomplished.

But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, they didn’t agree with us. So to their credit, they stood up to us, they argued with us, and they did so honorably, on behalf of more than 100 million people, just like we did against President Clinton and they did against President Reagan.

Now it goes without saying, Mr. Speaker, that by my count, our friends on the other side of the aisle lost every one of those arguments over the last 22 years, but that’s beside the point.

The point is, we disagree. On first principles, Mr. Speaker, we disagree. And so we debate, often loudly, and often in vain, to convince our opponents and the American people of our point of view.

We debate here on the House floor, we debate in committees, we debate on television and on radio and on the Internet and in the newspapers and then every two years, we have a huge debate. And then in November, we see who won. That is not rancor, that is democracy.

You show me a nation without partisanship, and I’ll show you a tyranny. For all its faults, it is partisanship, based on core principles, that clarifies our debates, that prevents one party from straying too far from the mainstream, and that constantly refreshes our politics with new ideas and new leaders.

Indeed, whatever role partisanship may have played in my own retirement today or in the unfriendliness heaped upon other leaders in other times, Republican or Democrat, however unjust, all we can say is that partisanship is the worst means of settling fundamental political differences — except for all the others.

Now, politics demands compromise. And Mr. Speaker, and even the most partisan among us have to understand that, but we must never forget that compromise and bipartisanship are means, not ends, and are properly employed only in the service of higher principles.

It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle.

For the true statesman, Mr. Speaker, we are not defined by what they compromise, but by what they don’t.

Conservatives, especially less enamored of government’s lust for growth, must remember that our principles must always drive our agenda and not the other way around. For us, conservatives, there are two such principles that can never be honorably compromised: human freedom and human dignity. [Emphases all mine]

Now I’m sure there could be robust debate about any and all of these points, most notably the idea that Conservatives hold a monopoly on valuing human freedom and human dignity. But that’s as it should be.

What are your first principles, and how do they affect your politics and/or your spirituality? That is the question than animates me more than any other. I personally believe that Conservatives currently value human freedom and human dignity more than Liberals do. It’s not that Liberals don’t value those things; rather the ideas of human equality and fairness matter more to them. Everyone is a “values voter”, but their values are ordered differently.

Everyone has the right to an opinion. No one has the right to hold it unchallenged, or deny that they are “partisan” in doing so. More substantially, the accounting of one’s first principles and concordant party affiliation must be the subject of scrutiny. Where there is no consensus, the lines between the parties are pretty well demarcated, and for substantial reasons. Those that seek to straddle the line need to make the case that they are doing so from a first principle other than moderation for it’s own sake. Otherwise they will doom themselves to failed third-party status, holding their self-defined “moral high ground”, but accomplishing nothing. Moderation in this sense is really a form of narcissism that argues one is special because they are above the argument. Not on this earth:

22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side [e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2006 4:53 pm

    Hi Count,

    I used to get phone calls from people raising money for Republicans who read a script saying they were calling on behalf of Tom Delay. Practically every other sentence contained the word “liberal”; sometimes it was used twice in the same sentence. The calls made me sick to my stomach. The calls finally quit coming, but I don’t know if they gave up because the script didn’t work on me or it didn’t work on anyone. I suspect Tom Delay is slimy. However, this was a great speech and you did a superb job of analyzing the key points.

    I certainly am not in favor of using prosecutors to go after political enemies, but I do like honest, heart-felt debate. I wish congressman would have to vote more often however. They should debate and then get a vote on record for every issue, not just the issues where the outcome is certain.

  2. Rufus T. Flinger permalink
    June 11, 2006 6:17 pm

    Three reactions Grec:

    One: you can’t write this kinda accusation: “Sadly, a practice began a few decades of go, which has gradually increased, that instead of arguing the merits of their policies, Democrats are racist, sexist, homophobic– or immoderate.”

    …and have me not challege you on that. That is as wrong as the Delay quote that inspired it saying basically that when Dems complain about partisanship they are just being sore losers. Both quotes are just really name calling, not really even an argument.

    Also, this could use a whole other posting to go over sometime:

    “I personally believe that Conservatives currently value human freedom and human dignity more than Liberals do.”

    Second point: I predict that this phrase:

    “…partisanship, Mr. Speaker, properly understood, is not a symptom of democracy’s weakness but of its health and its strength, especially from the perspective of a political conservative.”

    will go down in history remembered similar to this one:

    “I think greed is healthy…You can feel greedy and still feel good about yourself…”

    …which was from Ivan Boesky in 86, at UC Berkely’s Biz School three months before he was indicted for Insider trading. And yep, that was the speech that inspired the Gordon Gekko speech in wall street: “Greed is good, greed works.”

    Hammer’s message: “principled partisanship is good. Partisanship works.” Like Boesky, I believe this will be remembered as a window into the question “what does it take to justify the actions that eventually end his political career, and perhaps send him to jail?”

    The Hammer goes on: It clarifies, refreshes and moderates. Those who speak against it are just sore losers.

    Perhaps it is the phrase “principled partisan” that seems so off key coming from “the Hammer.”

    The Hammer’s Principle-based Partisanship got him admonished 3 times by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee…and indicted for money laundering in Texas.

    The principles that these have in common are a “pay to play” & “this government is for sale” ethic, and a “Everything is OK in the name of partisanship.” Of winning.

    Third Reaction: But my biggest reaction to the speech is how when Delay himself lists the achievements that his “principled partisanship” has won over their 12 year history I realize how when you look at the the results of his tactics almost EVERY ONE of the underlying problems he lists are actually worse today.

    Partisanship as defined by Delay didn’t work.

    I’ll include his “greatest hits” list here with what at least how I view the actual state of the problems themselves circa 2006, at least from my POV.

    DELAY: “Now, our agenda over the last 12 years has been an outgrowth of these first principles. We lowered taxes to increase freedom.”

    UNDERLYING PROBLEM: TAX FAIRNESS AND ECONOMY….We actually didn’t lower taxes for the middle class much, and virtually none for the poor…and our tax policy as implemented created the largest deficit in US history…

    DELAY: “We reformed welfare programs that however well intentioned undermined the dignity of work and personal responsibility and perpetuated poverty.”

    UNDERLYING PROBLEM: POVERTY…We as a nation have had an increase in poverty for each year of the Bush adminstration adding about 1 million new poor people a year up to about 36 million of us, with the gap between rich and poor widening to historic levels. Hunger in America has increased by 43% over the last 5 years. Our personal consumer debt is at the highest ever. 45 million of us can’t afford health care. Our child mortality rate is the worst in the developed world.

    We have opposed abortion, cloning and euthanasia, because such procedures fundamentally deny the unique dignity of the human person.

    UNDERLYING PROBLEM: ABORTION RATE…The abortion rate that has historically been declineing since the 70’s at a fast rate, slowed to flat (within the polling margin of error) under the Bush Admin years in office. Conversely abortion rates for the poor have been rising. In total, still about 1.2 million abortions performed yearly.

    “And we have supported the spread of democracy and the ongoing war against terror…”


    We took a Country that was 100% unified after 911 and splintered it accross partisan factions using the wartime status of the country for partisan gain, and for supporting Presidential policies on domestic spying and torture that divided the country.

    We refused to hold the Exec branch accountable thus further weakening the country’s trust and support of the Governement to procecute a long term War on terrorists and weakening long term support for a battle with insurgence in Iraq, or battling a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and thus the support of their fledgeling democracies.

    DELAY: “In any place or any time on any issue, what does liberalism ever seek, Mr. Speaker? More — more government, more taxation, more control over people’s lives and decisions and wallets. If conservatives don’t stand up to liberalism, no one will. And for a long time around here, almost no one did.”

    “And we fought this by creating a vastly more huge government, with a vastly bigger budget, more pork and more deficit, less taxes only for the rich, and in terms of “more control over people’s lives and decisions” — we have pushed for more federal invasive control over things like the Schiavo case instead of leaving it to the family or the State — by supporting the weakening of what 4th Amendment privacy rights actually cover — and by attempting to — at a Federal level — control what States do about Marriage definitions.

  3. June 12, 2006 12:15 am

    Tim- Point one: Ooops! What a typo!! You may not like the correction much better, but I meant to write:

    Sadly, a practice began a few decades of go, which has gradually increased, that instead of arguing the merits of their policies, Democrats all to often argue that their opponents are racist, sexist, homophobic– or immoderate.

    I’m a little saddened that your first assumption would not be that this is a typo. I guess you’re just used to so much crazy
    coming from this keyboard it’s hard to tell the difference. We need to get together with our kids and drink some beers or something!

    That said, your points seem more focused on his results than his tactics though. (See my following post on Ann Coulter.)

    Do Republicans dodge issues and resort to name calling too? You betcha! I have no time for that behavior either- in fact it’s that very practice more than anything else that probably makes me most uncomfortable as a Conservative.

    However, there is a whole world out there of intellectual Conservativism that makes excelent arguments for policies based on first principles. Sadly, the best arguments do no often come from Washington. The good arguments are the ones I try to draw attention to. DeLay’s argument in the abstract appealed to me.

    The Hammer indeed hit hard, and he eventually fell due to some hard hitting in return. I think he accepts that as a fair part of the game, and I respect him for that.

    I’m not really shedding any tears for the man though. Although the Republicans have been falling apart without him, he did preside over a period when Conservatives did betray some of their small government ideals. Perhaps some soul searching is taking place as a result.

    Democrats have a good issue in pork. Instapundit and Captains Quarters have been getting some good results with their Porkbusters campaign though too.

    I’m still working out where I am on taxation, but I think it’s defensible to say many liberals are overstating the situation. Our tax system is pretty progressive- taxes are low for the poor, and higher for the rich (although not as high as they used to be). I sold some stock options this year that my wife earned as a hourly employee for Peet’s coffee. I appreciate the low capital gains on that sale. I am not rich.

    There are plenty of metrics like unemployment, economic growth and manufacturing that could show we are doing just as fine, and perhaps even better than during the Clinton years. $3 gas and a War makes people feel differently though.

    I find the constant repetition that Bush went to war for mere partisan gain reprehensible. Bush went to war because he thought it was the right thing to do for the country. If anything it’s the Democrats who have siezed on criticism of the war as a partisan issue. It’s their ugly lies and contant slurs of motives that have drawn me out of my apolitical contentment, not some firery demagogery from Bush. As if the man is capable of it.

    I am not saying you or any of my other friends is reprehensible, but I have to admit I find this line of thought incredibly worrysome. Moreover, I find it unbecoming for a Christian, even as I know I often fail to live up to my own standards.

    I recognize that you speak honestly, with heartfelt fervor and a sense of Christian duty. I think of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural:

    Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’

  4. Andrew P permalink
    June 13, 2006 2:19 pm

    Delay may characterize his tenure as exhibiting principled partisanship, but few political scientists would see it that way. I think he was effective because he assiduously corraled power and money in pursuit of his political agenda. He secured majorities for important votes by scattering earmarks and quid pro quos like a master horse trader. He cultivated lobbyists, trafficked in special favors for well-heeled donors, and played one interest group off against another. Members of his own party were fair game for getting Hammered if they wouldn’t vote his way. Effective, masterful, strategic, hardly unprecedented, useful, perhaps even necessary, but principled? That would be like saying that Clinton is abstemious or W is eloquent.

    Principled partisanship is not necessarily a bad thing; “He serves his country best who serves his party best” (pace R. B. Hayes). What I’ve seen of Tony Blair defending the conduct of the war in an unfriendly House of Commons, complete with hmm/hmms comes to mind as an example of a clash of ideas played out on a grand stage for voters to ponder. In our system, having a majority or controlling minority is more likely to mean the ability and willingness to muffle debate and bring to a vote only apple-pie-and-motherhood non issues. That’s not principled and it’s not really partisanship, more like keep-away. See Washington D.C and Sacramento for two examples.

    Robert Byrd, Tom Tancredo, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, Russ Feingold — each of these has taken principled positions and stuck to them. But Delay? Only in his own dreams (underwritten by sweatshop owners employing sub-minimum wage workers in the US territory of the Northern Marianas Islands).

  5. Rufus T. Flinger permalink
    June 13, 2006 8:34 pm


    Thanks for the retraction, sorry I didn’t immediately get it to be a typo. Even the grammar was correct on it…. Glad it wasn’t where you were really trying to go.

    Your right my emphasis on “principled partisanship” ala Delay style was strong on looking at results.

    Rather than asking the question most shall we say less-than-principled partisans ask “Did we win?” I was trying to ask the questions I think principled folks inside both parties should ask: “Did it actually solve America’s problems? Did our politics actually leave the country better than we found it?”

    And it struck me that in all the big “wins” Delay listed, the answer was to me clearly no, and I’d say to most folks the answer would be that the answer was “mostly no.”

    In response, you suggested that the economy has brighter spots, sure, but that doesn’t negate the poverty stats from the US Census showing pretty unarguably that the number of poor and hungry increasing, and the gap between them and the rich increasing.

    You suggesting that some non-top-20% income earners saw an occasional tax break from things like a Starbucks coffee stock sale… True, but doesn’t negate that the Bush tax policies VASTLY benefit the rich and the big business and did not create a simpler nor fairer tax burden accross the entire country, offering little to no tax reform to the middle or lower classes.

    But I do agree with you on this statement:

    “I find the constant repetition that Bush went to war for mere partisan gain reprehensible. Bush went to war because he thought it was the right thing to do for the country.”

    I hope I was clear that I didn’t say he chose to go to war for partisan gain, but rather HOW he used the “wartime status of the country for partisan gain” in ways that did win, but divided a unified country and weakened the overall support that was there for the long term war against terrorism.

    Here is examples of what I meant:

    First, unlike his Dad in Gulf War I, Bush pushed for a vote to authorize force ahead of the midterm elections.

    Bush the Elder delayed the vote on the first Gulf war until after the 1990 elections thus missing some of the partisan points he could have scored, but gaining a more untied Congress and a more united country supporting the war.

    On the contrary, Bush the Decieder pushed for a pre-election vote. The RNC ran tons of ads against candidates during this time. And in June 2002, 4 months before the midterms and 9 months before the invasion, a Powerpoint from Karl Rove was lost by an intern, which when made public showed the White House political strategy for the election: “Focus on the War.”

    Look at this from Time Magazine from Sept. 2002, 8 weeks before the midterms:

    “Still, Rove knows an opportunity when he sees one. In private, Republicans concede that Bush’s focus on Iraq has vastly improved their chances in November and bless Rove for his efforts. More than a few G.O.P. candidates, taking their cue from Bush’s political guru, are beating the war drums in their speeches and insinuating that their Democratic opponents are soft on defense. But others fear this kind of talk has gone too far and could backfire. “There are some high-level people in the White House, Karl Rove being the main driver, who are using this for politics,” says a G.O.P. Senator.,8599,356034,00.html

    And according to British meeting notes from the Downing Street memo, as early as July 2002, 7 months prior to the eventual invasion, the date for the invasion was planned to happen “before the US Congressional elections.”

    “…No decisions had been taken, but [the US Def Secretary] thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

    To be very generous in reading that, it is possible that timing and calling out the US elections as a part of the timeline in the quote could have been a co-incident. Sure, but it at least shows that for a LONG time, behind the scenes the Bush team knew how things would time out. And when.

    In September 2002, Andy Card Bush’s COS talked about the timing of the War debate:

    When asked “why the administration waited until after Labor Day to try to sell the American people on military action against Iraq?” He responded:

    “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

    And they didn’t, the waited until closer to the midterms in September.

    OK, here is more:

    In Jan 2002, Rove caused a stir among Democrats when he told RNC members to make the war on terrorism an issue in the midterm elections.

    “We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.”

    Later in June 2005, Rove gave an example of what he meant by “go to the country on this issue”:

    “Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers…”

    I posted over at Rob’s blog ad nasuem as to what an outright lie that statement was.

    Democrats were united with the Pres, even Al Gore’s first major speech post 2000 election was him coming out saying “There are no divisions where our response to the war on terrorism is concerned,” saluting “George W. Bush is my commander in chief.”

    At least they are consistant. It continued up till today’s latest addition, Rove in New Hampsire:

    “Like too many Democrats, it strikes me that they are ready to give the green light to go to war…”

    Well that is an improvement: at least he acknoweldged that Dems did that, rather than just “prepare indictments and offer therapy” to the attackers. But wait for it…wait for it…

    “…but when it gets tough, they fall back on that party’s old platform of cutting and running.”

    Yeah, that “old platform” with famous “cut an runners” like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman, JFK, all the way up to how Clinton cut and ran in Bosnia.

    I understand that politics often makes for simply historically inacurate statements like that, but it always struck me that during a time of war Bush could have shown the country a better way, and forgone political gain in exchange for bringing the country together rather.

    Maybe next time.

    Rufus out.

  6. Rufus T. Flinger permalink
    June 26, 2006 10:35 am

    Andrew Sullivan makes almost exactly the same comment I did on the Bush team using the war for partisan gain over here:

    “Mark Blumenthal analyzes the Battle of the Bulge, recently referred to by White House spokesman, Tony Snow. Sadly the contrast between a bipartisan war and a partisan one come into sharp focus, comparing polling now and then. There are many people to blame for this, including the hard left, but the buck ultimately rests with the president. He is the commander-in-chief.

    In retrospect, he should have realized that a war on this scale and duration needed deep, bipartisan support.

    After 9/11, he probably should have brought in Democrats into his cabinet, named a Democrat defense secretary, and reached out to the majority of the opposition party that was not already beholden to Michael Moore-style idiotarianism. I also think he should have argued that all detainees in the war should be treated as formal POWs, detained until Osama bin Laden, or a successor, issued a statement of surrender, and disarmament. They may not have deserved such an honorific. But it would have said a lot about America that they should be given it. This approach would have conducted the war on a bipartisan highground, helped win over the allies, unite the public and yet still allow us to fight ferociously. Maybe this is a naive scenario – especially after the bitter division of the 2000 election.

    But, in some ways, that bitterness made such a strategy more important. Especially if you really believe, as I do, that this war is among the gravest the West has ever fought. The idea that it should be waged to help win mid-term Congressional elections for one party is a terribly sad and dangerous one. But I fear it is partly the truth.”

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