Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

A System Worth Fighting For

Conventional wisdom can be a dangerous force. For the last 80 years, our fickle national consensus has held that the government alone is the solution to an ailing economy and a downtrodden environment. (This consensus has been built by the government itself.) The influence of conventional wisdom with regards to ethnic diversity has brought to college campuses across the country the same kinds of inept and futile programs seen here at Georgetown. And who could forget conventional wisdom’s peculiar take on the U.S. Constitution – activist judges have branded it a “living document,” and thus not really a constitution at all.

President Obama, as brilliant with empty rhetoric as any politician since Bill Clinton, seized one tenet of political conventional wisdom and rode it all the way to the White House. The idea goes something like this: Our politicians are too divided and too partisan to get anything done; we need to move beyond our political divisions to get anywhere. Accordingly, Obama has taken up the chimerical, undyingly attractive mantle of “unity” and “post-partisanship.” He has confidently declared throughout his campaign and young presidency that he plans to end “partisan bickering.”

Despite what conventional wisdom and Obama say, partisanship is a tradition as old as the Republic itself. It permeates the annals of all Western politics. Edmund Burke, the British Whig and timeless political theorist, understood this as early as 1770 when he said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” He wasn’t talking about war; he was talking about Parliament.

There is certainly a time for cooperation and it is true that squabbling over petty matters undermines the authority of the legislature itself (see, for example, the GUSA Senate).

Disagreement for the sake of disagreement is never productive, and compromise must be given a fair chance. Obama should be applauded for his efforts in this regard.

But this is the man who declared that his presidency would be marked with the recession of the oceans and the healing of the planet – it is difficult to imagine that simple efficiency is all our president has in mind. His inaugural address made clear that he has decided to sharply depart from what he considers an all-too-partisan past.

What Americans and the mainstream media define as partisanship today would seem downright cooperative and polite to the politicians and parties of America’s past. We have come a long way since Sen. Charles Sumner was beaten with a cane on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Upon casting one of the most decisive votes in American history (in support of the Compromise of 1850), Sen. Sam Houston famously said, “I can forget that I am called a traitor.” He understood that his decision would not please everyone, and he was willing to accept that. Most important to Sen. Houston were his principles, not his reputation.

The challenges of political courage met by the statesmen of the past were not overcome in the comfort of company; the tough decisions were made alone, in conflict with one’s colleagues, and were so provocatively partisan that others would claim treason. The greatest achievements of American government have come as the result of hard-fought political brawls, lonely conviction and hard feelings. In America, the ideal leader is willing to fight and argue with the firm belief that the best man will win and the American people will have the final judgment. Better he be true than merely cooperative.

Obama’s light, feel-good rhetoric will encounter difficulty and spawn tension in this kind of environment – and it should. Ultimately, collaboration must never substitute for creative disagreement and sincere debate. Honest men will commonly disagree on the most important of issues; to pretend that such genuine diversity of philosophy and approach can be overcome with childish bromides about “unity” is not only unrealistic, but also dangerous. More often than not, the veneer of “post-partisanship” has served as code for the parliamentary tricks of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), which stifle debate and silence opposition.

Can Obama move America past partisanship? It’s a specious question: Without partisanship, this wouldn’t be America. The genius of the Constitution is its guarantee to prevent the very thing Obama advocates, and to preserve a competitive system of ambition set against ambition and interest set against interest.

In so doing, the Constitution creates a natural laboratory for policy development and ensures that collusion among various branches of government – the classical condition of tyranny – is averted. As James Madison said of the threat of political factions and partisanship: They can be extinguished, but only by prescribing that which is much worse than the disease itself. Politicians will disagree, interests will collide, and at the end of the day it’s an honest fight, not a naïve plea for “unity,” that best serves the interests of the American people.

Jeffrey Long is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at Conscience of a Conservative appears every other Tuesday.

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