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Saturday, September 15, 2012


In an earlier meditation, I reflected on partisanship. I reflected that the founders of the US did not want parties. They were republicans who accepted that there would be "factions" or groups that would through accountable government advocate their interests, work out any differences, and come up with policies where everyone or at least most people, all of whom "were created equal," could achieve their common interests in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  

I suppose it was unrealistic of them to not expect political parties and, without a parliamentarian form of government, two dominant ones. The history of the parties is instructive and demonstrates an ongoing tension among a whole bunch of approaches.  When the Republican Party was formed it stood for the industrial North and strong central government over the agrarian South and states rights.

That all shifted when the Democratic Party championed Economic Reform and Civil Rights enforced by the central government, as LBJ said it would. But at least within the Parties were still "factions." The Peace movement (especially the anti-Vietnam war) pushed for limited government; and the community organization movement pushed for more locally accountable government in both parties. Republicans were essential in overcoming southern Democrats in Civil Rights.

My dad was a good Republican because he thought that party more represented his interests as a manager in General Motors. But he recognized the importance of strong unions and was the first to get African-Americans into management in GM, as a leader in the Catholic Council for Racial Justice.

In other words, there were still "factions" within the Parties and this made for more moderation and a search for common cause among the Parties. (Common Cause was started by John Gardner, a Republican.)

We've seen the party system change substantially since the 1980s as more and more polarization, ideological purity, and institutional loyalty have arisen, something you expect from religion (why the separation of church and state is so important), but not in politics.  

In today's newspaper was another article on the campaign. Here is a quote from that article:  "The poll found that a majority of voters embrace the president’s vision of a country that emphasizes community and shared responsibility over self-reliance and individual responsibility, a distinction at the core of the debate between the Republican and Democratic tickets about the proper role of government."

I think this does cut to a basic orientation in the parties today. And one worth discussing and one where good people can differ. For sure self-reliance, even self-interest, and individual responsibility are important goods in the nation. But do they take precedence over community and shared responsibility in the role of government at least in terms of emphasis? Perhaps the answer is at certain times and places, yes. In others, no. Or whose self-interest and self-reliance are we talking about? And whose individual responsibility within the community?

In Catholic Social Teaching and in what is called "social democracy" or even "social capitalism" or even "socialism" as understood in Canada and Europe, there is a "preferential option for the poor," that puts the emphasis in advancing those who have been "left behind," those at the lower end of the economic and political ladder, those with fewer assets or equity, or as Economist Joseph Stiglitz says: the 99% over the 1%. Also there is a general moral prohibition in identifying or subordinating public good to individual self-interest.

But there is also the prohibition against a totalitarian state in which individual rights and responsibilities are denied. And there is the teaching of "subsidiarity," the dealing with issues at the smallest or most local level possible.

In other words, hating Obama as an outsider or "socialist" or an "ass" (as my cousin Vinnie proclaims) is downright wrong--and I think anti-American. But so is hating Romney because he is a "vulture capitalist" or believes in cutting dependency on government. And most of the Internet characterizations within the extreme portions of the two camps undermine our republican form of government. 

And so does all the money necessary to run a campaign. As I heard Republican Senator and Presidential candidate, John McCain, say: The Supreme Court "Citizens United" decision did more to undermine our republican form of government and strengthen our two-party system than any decision since the Dred Scott decision.

So good luck to us in November! I hope we can turn back to being a Republic rather than an Empire run by plutocrats. That is much more important to me than either Party.