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The Political Animal

Partisan Fixation Syndrome

Reflecting on my post of yesterday about the tenth anniversary of Bush v. Gore, I considered the prevalence of the above titled PFS.

(I love acronyms. Have you noticed that health disorders these days are all designated as acronyms? Makes them sound more impressive, often, while conveying little or no actual information. You have OCD with complications of LDS? Wow. My daughter has LD – a learning disability? Well, I already knew that. What is it? Sure sounds like something, as an acronym. Another effect of acronyms is that they enable us to keep a mental distance from entities and ideas we otherwise find PU. Just FYI. #WTF)

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 20:  President Barack Oba...
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Being partisan is not the same thing as having Partisan Fixation Syndrome – excuse me – PFS. I’m a partisan, I will proudly tell you. I have never in my life – not once; I authorize release of my hole punches and lever pulls for verification – voted for a Republican. It’s conceivable that I would have voted for John Lindsay for mayor of New York, but I was too young to vote then, and he would be a Democrat now – really was then – anyhow. So there is a whole lot – a very great deal – in this country that cannot be blamed on me. (I know someone’s trying.)  I did vote for John Anderson for President in 1980, and he had been a Republican, but he ran then as an independent. And since I voted Socialist Labor in 1976, Jimmy Carter is another political ill that cannot be blamed on me.

So you see, I am a partisan: the Republican Party, as a party, as the organizational embodiment of a set of ideas and policy prescriptions, has never remotely represented any vision that I envision as the United States of America. In truth, it represents, mostly, the obstacles the U.S. has needed to overcome to become the great nation it is and still can be.

As a partisan, I want President Obama to govern as a full-throated Democrat, just as every Republican President in the modern era has done as a Republican. George W. Bush gained the presidency by – well, you know how GWB gained the presidency – and he governed as if he had won a landslide. Barry wins a clear mandate and sings the praises of BP (nobipartisanship; get your acronyms straight). Then he invents a new form of negotiation in which you make the concession (single-payer health care, tax cuts for poor, hurting derivatives traders) before you formulate the deal. Hell, the Pubs win the just House and they act like they won the presidency.

Senate Republicans threatened Wednesday to block virtually all legislation until expiring tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government, vastly complicating Democratic attempts to leave their own stamp on the final days of the post-election Congress.

“While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike,” all 42 GOP senators wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The 42 signatures are more than enough to block action on almost any item he wishes to advance.

Senator Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader
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But, then, Democrats are punks. We know that. Nancy Pelosi as majority leader? I say make her PM (prime minister, for god’s sake), Obama Queen (speech making, inspiring the people, that sort of thing), and keep Harry Reid (you got to hand it to that little engine that could) out of sight in the cloak room cobbling together the votes. Then hand the Pubs their BP. (Sorry, no. I’m whimsical – bicarbonate of puke.)

I wish Obama had meant it when he told Diane Sawyer, “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,”

So, yes – is it clear enough? – I am a partisan.

However, I am not a fixated partisan.

In his interesting interview with Rachel Maddow a few weeks back, John Stewart had some thoughts on partisanship and ideology that got their nature, I think, very much backwards. Stewart said of Fox News that he thinks it ideological, but not partisan. The truth is exactly the reverse. Let Barack Obama change his position on a policy or two and we will see, as we have before, just how not terrifically ideological the foxy newsies are. But as a funder of politically active organizations, an employer of former and future Republican candidates in waiting, a daily party line message communicator, and a corporate staging ground for bogus conservative grassroots political movements, Fox News is as partisan as the RNC (ah, c’mon), with the benefit of being led by Roger Ailes rather than Michael Steele. Wait until the Republican national convention is held in a Fox studio.

Non-fixated partisans retain the ability to analyze ideas and policy proposals free of their partisan inclinations. They do not even employ the vocabulary of partisan politics in their intellectual considerations. They may view politics in partisan terms, but they do see the world through partisan eyes. There may be a coherent and generally consistent political philosophy, but it is not ideologically determined or partisan in purpose. If they are liberals, for instance, they might be committed supporters of abortion rights for women who have nonetheless not reduced the abortion in their considerations to no more than a molar extraction, and who oppose late-term, especially partial-birth abortions, support of which is significantly driven by partisan opposition to giving an inch for fear of the foot. If they support affirmative action legislation, and rules that have sought to rectify past discrimination and prevent future discrimination in historically established areas of discrimination, through attention to disparate impact, they nonetheless may be no less attentive to avoiding new acts of discrimination in the interest of addressing the old.

Fixated partisans, in contrast, don’t do – ah, what’s the word? – nuance. Their thinking can hardly ever be free, in fact, of thinking about what the other side thinks in deciding what it is exactly that they think. Reaction from some quarters to Wikileaks is an example. It is predictable that conservatives would generally speaking be protectors of state authority and power in areas of foreign policy and national defense. It is generally predictable that liberals will not be, especially if conservatives are, so even if the leak – of the diplomatic cables, for instance – exposes no wrong doing, and merely tweaks the centers of power, and conservatives object, well, then, the nature of some liberal response is nearly assured.

As for the conservatives – you knew I was getting to them – with them we get to observe FPS in its most singularly distinctive form: the inability to frame an issue, on any subject, or nearly to compose a thought, without using the word liberal as a – well, to begin, without, simply, using the world liberal. Everything about the world they live in is perceived through the optic of what liberals are considered to have done to it. It is curious that conservatives will speak proudly of the twentieth century as the American Century, when the dreadful reality for them is that the twentieth century in the U.S. – from the Roosevelts and Wilson to Truman and the Johnson’s Great Society – has been very much a liberal century. Liberals often have a hard time feeling this over recent decades, because of Republican domination of the presidency and the culture wars, so liberals with FPS are often thinking about what conservatives are trying to do to them and their country – to take from it and prevent it from gaining. Conservatives with FPS are consumed with what liberals have already done to them and their country. Read conservative blogs; read their comments. Forget the major political issues. They cannot talk about science, they cannot talk about urban planning, they cannot talk about entertainment, the arts, the culture of sports, auto emissions, coffee houses, or the department of motor vehicles in whatever state they live without railing against liberals. Little of anything on which they are compelled to expound is contemplated free of the fixated concentration of the syndrome. How’s your son enjoying his first semester at college? Well, he would be if weren’t for what the liberals have done to education in this country.

It is a wonder. It truly is. However, I don’t know about you, but I prefer to inhabit disease-free environments whenever possible. I’m almost fixated on it.

AJA

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