Predictably Partisan

In a recent NYT Op-Ed column, conservative commentator David Brooks wrote: “In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the political debate has fallen into predictably partisan and often puerile categories. Conservatives say this is Obama’s Katrina. Liberals say the spill is proof the government should have more control over industry.”

Although I doubt it was Mr. Brooks’ intention, his quote puts the spotlight on an common and significant difference between Conservatives (typically Republicans) and Liberals (typically Democrats) — with the Conservatives winding up on the wrong side of the tracks.

Liberals “predictably” argue for more “government control.” Increased government regulation is indeed one common goal of liberals. Liberals would argue that, while government is far from perfect and can contribute to wasteful spending, unregulated business is the greater of two evils. Under the best circumstances, government serves as the watchdog for the “common man,” the citizen without the money, power and lobbyists to otherwise compete with the interests of big business. You (especially if you are a conservative) may disagree with this position. But you cannot dispute that it is a legitimate political position — a statement of principle.

Conservatives’ main arguments (at least according to Mr. Brooks) are typically statements such as “this is Obama’s Katrina.” Rather than a statement of principle or indication of what action they might propose — it amounts to name-calling. The intent is to disparage Obama at every opportunity and thereby, hopefully, gain a political advantage. I also find it ironic (as John Stewart similarly pointed out) that this particular Conservative tactic rests on comparing Obama’s actions to an even larger screw-up by his Conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. Not to mention that, at the time of Katrina, these same Conservatives were likely supportive of Bush. In other words, they are not only name-callers but hypocritical name-callers.

I don’t mean to suggest that Liberals always take the high-ground and are never guilty of similar behavior. But, on average, you are much more likely to see things split this way than not. Remember, I am not the one who initially made this point. I’m just the messenger. The message originates with an acknowledged Conservative —  pointing out what is readily taken as the “predictable” truth.

What’s worse here is that, what the Conservative side of the debate lacks in principle and honesty, it makes up for in emotional appeal and political effectiveness. Shouting phrases like “Obama’s Katrina” over and over again on Fox News resonates with their political base much more than anything that Liberals manage to do. That’s one key reason that Liberals too often come out on the losing side of these “debates” with Conservatives — regardless of the relative merits of their “predictable” positions. As long as the public rewards Conservatives for their approach, the situation is unlikely to change. If anything, in this current hyper-partisan climate, I only see things getting worse in the months and years ahead.

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