The Partisan in 2012

Throughout the historic 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to be the nation’s first “post-partisan” president. His feel-good, seemingly non-political rhetoric of “change” promised to usher in a new era of progress and political compromise. And yet, instead of marking the end of sectarian rancor, his election kicked off a particularly ugly chapter in American political history. From birtherism to the healthcare town halls, and from the Wall St. bailout to immigration reform, it seemed that Congress was paralyzed by political divisions. Members of the Millennial generation and of our yet-unnamed subsequent generation, took the gridlock in Washington to be the result of excessive partisanship. Politicians, it seemed, were unwilling to compromise on their positions.

In reality, the two parties became increasingly hostile as their politics became increasingly similar. Stubborn party allegiances, not principled stands, stalled the political process. More and more, both parties represented the agendas of Wall Street executives and corporate lobbyists. But many young people and students, raised with an ethos of problem-solving and educated in an environment that prized the pragmatic spirit of entrepreneurism, believed the political process was stalled because people clung stubbornly to their convictions. They saw strong opinions and ideas as unattractive. Dissent and criticism became taboo. Disagreement was stigmatized. In reaction to the vitriol they perceived in the political arena, they even began to apologize for holding divergent opinions.

Consequently, groups sprung up claiming to promote non-partisan, non-political agendas dedicated to “solving problems” – balancing the budget, encouraging political compromises, and promoting reforms. Many young people, who no longer felt well-represented by party leaders, sought to avoid all political conversations and involvements. They quickly learned that a small comment with political undertones could inspire an extremely emotional response. They shied away from confrontation. In reaction to the Tea Party and, later, the Occupy movement, it became fashionable to advocate political change beneath a seemingly apolitical facade of realism and pragmatism. Young people were often repelled by activist energies that called for radical government overhaul outside of existing party platforms. When the topic of Congress was raised, broad, neutral criticisms of the legislators’ inability to compromise became the social norm.  But what many young people missed was that the solutions to problems like the debt crisis or the budget deficit were inherently political. To compromise and agree to cuts to social services or tax increases is to take a political position.  Proposals to balance the budget or reform the tax code are necessarily political, and therefore partisan, issues.

Partisanship has come to be defined as a slavish loyalty to a particular party, rather than as an honest commitment a set of beliefs and ideas. We strongly oppose this definition. We believe that to be partisan is to be principled, like the fighters in World War II and the journal that bore the same name. We are partisan, and unabashedly so. But this does not mean that our thinking is oriented towards a party line; it means that we are oriented towards a set of ideas – each contributor to his own – and dedicated to critical thought. We are interested in policies and technologies, and in the ideologies and politics that necessarily accompany them. We seek to challenge mainstream assumptions, explore uncomfortable political terrain, and, perhaps most importantly, revive the notion of partisanship as an integral component of historical, political, and sociological discourse.

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