The importance of partisanship

I’ve always been fascinated by people who claim to detest politics – an extremely common proclamation at dinner-table conversations – but nevertheless support Big Government in all of its activist bloat.  A related bafflement involves people who complain endlessly about bitter partisan politics and “gridlock” when the government consumes or controls so much of American life.


If you want a huge, dominant central government, then you should be embracing both politics and partisanship.  Because Big Government without partisanship is tyranny.

That’s what complaining about political squabbles without insisting on small government boils down to.  You’re saying people should meekly obey the super-State.  You’re dismissing the importance of congressional representation in favor of a dictatorial Administration, which we get one chance every four years to vote against.

That’s not far from the argument explicitly made to Americans during the Obama years: the President should get his way, he won the election, so everyone in Congress should fall into line behind his agenda.  Presidential elections are portrayed as the incarnation of popular will.  Subordinate representatives in the House and Senate might be allowed to quibble over small details, perhaps offer a bit of constructive criticism, but they shouldn’t make organized efforts to “obstruct” the President’s vision for the country.

Of course, the Democrats offering that argument will immediately retract it, set it on fire, and swallow the ashes the instant a Republican wins office.  But they’ve got a disproportionate influence on the media and popular culture, so their opportunistic effort to portray Congress as irrelevant does lasting damage to our public discourse.  We most certainly do not want the “elected benevolent dictator” model of governance.  If you’ll take a look at nations where that’s been tried, you’ll notice the elected benevolent dictators have a pronounced tendency to die in office, after winning over 100 percent of the vote in a long string of “elections.”


Partisanship is an essential component of the Big Government system, because it’s impossible for individuals or small groups to resist the gravitational pull of the central State.  Your only Hope for Change involves getting the power structure of one of the major parties to adopt your cause.  And the only way to do that is to join forces with a political organism powerful enough to get the aristocracy’s attention.  Nothing gets their attention quite like the offer of support from a well-organized voting bloc, which secures its seat at the table by promising partisan loyalty.

As the State grows larger, it moves automatically to what we think of as the Left, dragging both parties – and every orbiting satellite of independence – along with it.  The cynical observer could cite plenty of evidence for the argument that our political divide is increasingly less about Democrats versus Republicans, and more about those who feed from the State, versus those who are fed upon.  If you don’t sign up with one of the big players, you’re going to get crushed.  Just ask Gibson Guitars CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, who got raided by the paramilitary wing of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because well-connected Big Labor interests got the laws quietly rewritten to make his right-to-work company a target.

There is no way to opt out of this turgid drama.  There is no longer a corner of unregulated life to which the non-political person can safely withdraw.  You will be hunted down and made to do whatever the dominant Party deems in the national interest.  You can even be forced to buy products from private industry now, if the ruling elite says it’s for the best.  Rest assured that new power will not be restricted to health care for long.  No other government power has ever been restrained by the declared intentions of the politicians who seized it.


If that sounds dreary to you, then you should demand a smaller central government, expanding your ability to move away from state governments you find intolerable, or refuse to engage in voluntary commerce you find undesirable.

Also, as the size and power of the State increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to portray any given major election as tied to a single issue.  I’m always amused by those who say they’ll vote a given national politician – particularly the President – out of office if he abuses the new money and power he’s demanding.  No, you won’t.  You’ll arrive at that next electoral showdown facing dozens or hundreds of issues, and find relatively few people willing to join you in making the decision based on any single one of them.  Barack Obama was a spectacularly lousy CEO of General Motors, for example, but that barely came up during his re-election challenge, and when it did, all objective analysis of his performance was drowned out by chants of “Detroit is alive and bin Laden is dead!” from his partisans.

So you’re going to have to sign up for loyal support of a big political party if you want to get anything done.  The very size of our government is one of the major reasons third parties can’t get off the ground – not enough powerful interests are willing to roll the dice on such a bid.  It is common for supporters of one party to claim that opposition from the other is based on blind partisan animosity, rather than reasonable disagreement.  Sometimes partisan considerations are indeed a major factor, or even the dominant one… and the successful third-party President will get hit by such animosity from both sides.  The only way to avoid that is to either defeat and consume one of the existing major parties – the work of decades, and possibly not doable at all, given how high the stakes have become in every single election – or to ally with one of the existing parties so strongly that third-party independence becomes more of an affectation than a reality.  (And when that point is reached, you can be sure the sincere third-party revolutionaries would let the insufficiently independent standard-bearer hear their displeasure, good and loud.)


Of course most railing against “partisanship” is just a thinly-veiled demand for the other side to surrender.  But that’s what it would work out to in practice, as well.  Congress is supposed to be an equal branch of government.  Party coordination is the only way to get anything done in Congress, especially when the federal government has grown so far beyond its Constitutional boundaries.  The case against partisan energy is, therefore, a demand for the American people to shut up and meekly comply with whatever the executive branch has in mind, until they get a chance to express their displeasure in the next presidential election.

Can’t get your pet issue past partisan “gridlock?”  Then maybe it’s something all of America should not be forced to support.  Citizens have much more influence over their representatives than they do over the executive branch, but the chattering classes carry on as if the reverse was true.  For a while there, before the Obama presidency came crashing down in a firestorm of scandals, they were getting pretty close to telling us the legislature should be done away with altogether.  That’s what one expects to hear from those who think the American people still have far too much to say about what goes on in Washington.

Less partisanship, weaker parties, and more independent politicians sound great to me… but we’ll never get any of that as long as the government is so huge.  It’s run by a bureaucracy that is largely untouched by elections.  It has vast amounts of power and money to defend its interests.  Only a major party whipped into fighting shape by determined voters has any chance of doing battle with such a beast, and the opposition party that rides upon its back.  You could say that one of the big reasons America never gets an effective third party is that it already has one, and the Party of the State is more powerful than Democrats or Republicans… not least because it owns all of the former, and more than half of the latter.  I wouldn’t mind seeing some blind partisan opposition against the Party of the State.





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