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The triumph of partisanship

and why it really isn't a bad thing

In the 1967 move, Guess Whos Coming to Dinner, liberal parents have the depths of their liberalism
plumbed when their daughter brings home a black man as her fiance. According to Cass
Sunstein,political identity is now a more potent organizing force in society than racism:
Researchers have long asked such questions about race, and have found that along
important dimensions, racial prejudice is decreasing. At the same time, party prejudice
in the U.S. has jumped, infecting not only politics but also decisions about dating,
marriage and hiring. By some measures, partyism now exceeds racial prejudice
which helps explain the intensity of some midterm election campaigns.
In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel
displeased if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those
numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like
Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike
Republicans more than they dislike big business.
Would you want your son or daughter to bring home a liberal Democrat to be your future in-law and
parent of your grandchildren? Think about if for a second.
The two poles in the discussion are the epitome of the no label crown, David Brooks, and the man
who has done more than any other pundit to poison political discourse in America, Jonathan Chait.
In Brooks view, judging people based on their politics (or just about any other criteria) is wrong. To give
you an idea of Brooks self awareness you need to read the opening to his essay:
A college student came to me recently with a quandary. Hed spent the summer
interning at a conservative think tank. Now he was applying to schools and companies
where most people were liberal. Should he remove the internship from his rsum?
I advised him not to. Even if people disagreed with his politics, I argued, theyd still
appreciate his public spiritedness. But now Im thinking that advice was wrong. Theres a
lot more political discrimination than I thought. In fact, the best recent research
suggests that theres more political discrimination than there is racial discrimination.
I hope that no one ever asks Brooks for his advice again or, failing that, someone sues him for maladvisory or something.
There are several reasons politics has become hyper-moralized in this way. First, straight
moral discussion has atrophied. There used to be public theologians and philosophers
who discussed moral issues directly. That kind of public intellectual is no longer
prominent, so moral discussion is now done under the guise of policy disagreement,
often by political talk-show hosts.

Second, highly educated people are more likely to define themselves by what they
believe than by their family religion, ethnic identity or region.
Third, political campaigns and media provocateurs build loyalty by spreading the
message that electoral disputes are not about whether the top tax rate will be 36
percent or 39 percent, but are about the existential fabric of life itself.
The problem is that hyper-moralization destroys politics. Most of the time, politics is a
battle between competing interests or an attempt to balance partial truths. But in this
fervent state, it turns into a Manichaean struggle of light and darkness. To compromise
is to betray your very identity. When schools, community groups and workplaces get
defined by political membership, when speakers get disinvited from campus because
they are beyond the pale, then every community gets dumber because they cant reap
the benefits of diverging viewpoints and competing thought.
This mentality also ruins human interaction. There is a tremendous variety of human
beings within each political party. To judge human beings on political labels is to deny
and ignore what is most important about them. It is to profoundly devalue them. That is
the core sin of prejudice, whether it is racism or partyism.
The personal is not political. If youre judging a potential daughter-in-law on political
grounds, your values are out of whack.
Lets hold this in abeyance because even though Brooks makes some good points, he, unsurprisingly
comes to a conclusion that shows you just how impressed he can be by pair of impeccably creased
mens pants.
Jonathan Chait takes the opposite tack. Chait, who in addition to avowing his personal hatred for a man
he never met has labeled anyone opposing Obama a racist, is on his home turf.
Its okay to judge peoples political values. Its not like the sports team you root for or
even (exactly) like a religion, where you are mostly born into your loyalty. Politics
expresses moral values.
That is precisely the attitude that troubles Brooks, who complains that political life is
being hyper-moralized. If you want to argue that partisanship is ruining American
society via hypermoralization, consider some of the ways American political life has
changed since the 1960s. It is true that, 50 years ago, hardly anybody objected to their
child marrying outside their party. That is because the parties lacked ideological
cohesion. The 1960s were when my liberal Democratic mother met and married my
liberal Republican father. Their opposing voting habits did not create problems because
they disagreed very little about policy. Theyre both liberal Democrats now.
American politics may have been much less partisan in the 1960s, but it was not lacking
in hypermoralization. Indeed, it was far more violent. You had white supremacists
murdering civil-rights activists in Mississippi, police brutalizing protestors in Chicago,
and construction workers beating up hippies in New York City. That angry,
hypermoralized politics took place outside of, or within, parties rather than between

There are millions of Americans who think its okay to deny legal citizens their voting
rights or force them to go without health insurance. Those people live in a different
moral universe than I do. Theyre not necessarily bad people. (Lord knows the people
who agree with me on those things are not all good.) But, yes, I believe their political
views reflect something unflattering about their character.
Unlike race and ethnicity, politics are a matter of choice. Much more than religion, which is increasingly
a choice rather than a patrimony, you make a series of judgments, intellectual or visceral, to arrive at set
of political beliefs. It is natural, therefore, that why we choose our employees, our friends, and our inlaws to reflect those values. As Brooks correctly notes, as the role of religion has decreased in society
the role of partisan politics has increased. Religion has never carried the flash point in America (I guess
by never I mean since at least the post Civil War era) that it does in Europe because absent an
established church there was no political downside to adhering to most any religion you wished and,
absent the political component, the philosophical outlooks of the various parts of the Judeo-Christian
tradition are remarkably similar.
While we might be willing to accept a level of dissent from those values in casual acquaintances and
employees (but, really, would you hire someone who had been an officer in a liberal student
organization or whose Facebook page boasted of their time with Occupy Wall Street?) but are we willing
to invite into our homes and our inner circle people who hold values inimical to ours and whom,
ultimately, you cannot trust to keep your confidences because, as Sunstein, Brooks, and Chait agree,
politics exerts a tribal pull in modern society that isnt tempered by blood or bond. Would someone, like
Chait, who views the common justice of ensuring that only actual voters vote and believe that is is fine
for the government to take that which you have earned and give it to someone Chait thinks is more
deserving, hesitate in harming your employment regardless if you were an in-law or considered him a
friend? Did friendship preclude Damon Linker, from using his position as editor at First Things and friend
of Father Richard John Neuhaus to gather material to write a book betraying both employer and friend
in the service of secular liberalism? No. You enter into intimate friendships with people of different
beliefs with the expectation that, when the opportunity presents itself, they will cheerfully betray you
because you are wrong thinking. Or, as Chait says, there is something unflattering about your
character. And here Chait really has the best of the argument. Brooks holds that what is most
important about an individual is different from their politics. While we disagree on the specifics of
desirable qualities, Chait view is that your politics are a reflection of your character because, as
someone sorta well known in certain circles once said, You will know them by their fruits.
Ultimately, as sentient beings we are free to use whatever metric we wish in deciding who we consider
friends and whom we would welcome into our families. No one. No one has any right to vote or even
express an opinion on your choices.

The Fate of the Presidents Health Care Law

By Scott W. Rasmussen

In the wake of the midterm elections, many are now speculating about what will happen to President
Obamas health care law with a Republican Senate. However, all the partisan talk misses the point. In
America, change does not come from politicians. It comes from the American people and the popular
Contrary to the self-serving view from official Washington, politics does not lead change, it is a lagging
indicator of change. Today, the political process is simply trying to catch up with where the voters have
been for a long time. Well before Barack Obama ran for president, there was a strong desire for health
care reform. People wanted more control over their own health care decisions and lower costs.
President Obamas plan symbolically addressed the deep desire for reform. But it did not give people
more control over their medical care. It did impose unpopular mandates and most believe it will lead to
higher prices. So, while voters appreciated the effort to do something, the law itself has remained
unpopular since day one.
To remedy that, the politicians have to get a few things out of the way first. The Republican Senate will
join the House of Representatives and bring up a bill to repeal the presidents law. This is an absolutely
essential step on the road to recovery. Its what the GOP candidates promised and what their voters are
While essential, the repeal effort wont get out of the Senate. There are still enough Democrats in office
to filibuster the bill.
Then, Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans will challenge parts of the law with a variety of
measures. Some will attract support from Democratic Senators, others wont. All will be vetoed by
President Obama. Democrats will complain about wasting all that energy on bills that are going
nowhere. Republicans will complain about the presidents stubborn refusal to acknowledge the election
And then, only then, will the serious work of health care reform begin. The key will be discussions
revolving around the individual and employer mandates. These provisions, more than anything else,
restrict the ability of consumers and workers to make their own health care decisions. Why should the
government force people to buy more insurance than they need or want? Why should employers make
health care choices for their workers? Who should decide the trade-off between salary and insurance?
These are the questions that will drive the debate. For most Americans, the answer is that each
individual should be free to make their own choices. Nobody wants their employer, insurance
companies, or the federal government making such vital decisions for them.
Not only are these issues of great concern to voters, they are the key to bringing down health care costs.
Putting individuals in charge of their own health care decisions will bring enormous pressures to bear on
excessive medical care costs. Not only that, loosening the grip of insurance companies on the process
will open the way for new technology to save lives and cut costs.

The common sense wisdom of the American people is leading the nation to a better health care system.
The political process is still resisting, but sooner or later will catch up. When they do, we will have one
more reason to be optimistic about Americas future.
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWRasmussen