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November 15, 2008

Partisan America (2)

In a New Republic review, I argue that the rise of partisanship in the United States is the result of the regional and ideological realignment of the two major parties. Moreover, as Nancy Rosenblum argues in the book under review, partisanship is by and large a necessary and a good thing in a democracy. It's a good thing, I suggest, in its place. Here is how the essay ends:

Contrary to progressive "antipartisanism," Rosenblum insists, "what is
needed is not more independence but more and better partisanship." And this, I
think, is how we ought to approach the current American political condition. The
philosophers as well as the high-minded sermonizers ought to lose the vestigial
anti-party and anti-partisan impulses. Polarization along party lines may be
uncomfortable, but the parties now actually stand for something, and it makes
more sense than ever to stand with one of them. The voters have a clearer and
better basis for holding parties and party philosophies accountable. Partisan
identity is now a more important aspect of Americans' personal identities, and
we are going to have to live with it. We should not be averse to doing

And yet we must take care not to be too partisan about partisanship. It
ought not to be welcome in every aspect of life--certainly not in arenas such as
the schools, the churches, and the sciences, where concerns for other values
ought to dominate, and under ordinary circumstances completely exclude, the
partisan mentality. Yet in a society in which the parties stand for different
worldviews that encompass education, religion, and science, maintaining those
limits is increasingly difficult. Even in a partisan America, or perhaps
especially there, the ethic of partisanship has to include rules for keeping
partisanship in its place.