Do we really need partisan politics?

Published 1:37 am Wednesday, May 28, 2008

By Staff
Partisan politics is defined by Webster’s, Wikipedia and others in a number of different ways including the ardent and enthusiastic support of an individual or political party that stands for a specific set of ideals or beliefs that they would like to see advanced through the political process with nary any regard for fairness.
Others might suggest it is any candidate or party opposing the status quo of the sitting candidate or controlling party irrespective of any criticism, new ideas or vision that the potential “newbies” may be injecting into the political discourse.
And sadly it can also be about those in control for years wanting to stay in control at any cost, including discrediting the loyal opposition by spreading falsehoods, rumor, innuendo and character assassination.
It’s been often asked why politicians at all levels of government at times appear desperate to keep their death grip on the armrests of the seat of power. Prestige and ego may be two reasons. An additional source of income may be another.
An additional reason is influence. When you’re an incumbent sitting in the “catbird seat” this seemingly intangible commodity is the most significant source of control an elected official can exercise both within and without their immediate sphere of influence.
Many people are firm supporters of term limits. Many might say that by imposing tenure limits we are losing experienced legislators. Others will say we have term limits now. They’re called elections.
But it’s often the “experienced” legislators who concern some people. When you examine elected officials involved in scandal and corruption it’s difficult to recall many, if any, involving a freshman or two-term legislator. Conversely, there is an infinite list of those who’ve been in power for numerous terms who have gone astray.
And then there is the power of the incumbency. The longer they serve, the more name recognition they have, the bigger their donor lists become and as a result, the more favors they owe. An election then boils down to popularity contests between powerful, well-known and well-financed incumbents vs. the usually under-financed and less known idealists whose narrow resources limit their ability to have their message heard.
In local elections, incumbents often go unchallenged by the opposition party’s inability or unwillingness to field a candidate. In some cases there is no opposition party, or at least one that is active. Without a two-party system in place the opportunity for innate unfairness and demagoguery replaces debate and a system of checks and balances to oversee and protect the interests of the average citizen.
A controlling one-party system sews the seeds for potential corruption, influence peddling, nepotism, favoritism and cronyism. Yes, state and federal government officials are big-time players in this winner-take-all sweepstakes, but many local town and county governments that have been controlled for decades by the same players or their minions can be even more troublesome.
How can voters change a system that is so firmly entrenched that it is becoming increasingly difficult to think we can ever change it? One of the best ways is to see to it that no elected seat at any level of government ever goes unchallenged.
We have two major political parties in this country, and neither is perfect. They do, however, offer the only real chance we currently have to exercise any control over the destinies of our world, our nation, our states, our communities and thus ultimately ourselves.
Our freedom to vote is not only our constitutionally divine right but our solemn responsibility and duty. We all believe in something. Most of us can find a home within one party or another, with each representing its own set of ideals, values and vision. Our active participation within this system allows us to partake in the shaping of those principles that will guide our individual party’s platform and selection of candidates.
Labeling anyone as a partisan politico may seem to some as mean-spirited. But in truth we’re all involved in partisan politics, whether we see ourselves as Republican, Democrats, Libertarians or independents. Anyone striving through whatever “honorable” means to offer a choice of candidates, ideology and a vision is involved in partisan politics.
Bipartisan cooperation, that great ideal, can only become a reality when the interests of all sides are respectively presented and considered through the prism of initial partisan viewpoints. This can serve as the catalyst for discussion, negotiation and ultimately real, fruitful and productive compromise.
You can say what you want about partisan politics being mean spirited or unnecessary, but without it we risk becoming mindless droids wandering in the wilderness of a political landscape we neither understand nor have the ability or will to change.
Guest editorial by Bob Steinburg, chairman of the Chowan County Republican Party. He lives in Edenton.