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Bi-Partisanship in a Non-Partisan World

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Message Herbert Hoffman
This past year's Senatorial campaign in Maine witnessed a phenomenon that is anything but unique.  I refer to the dance the two major party candidates participated in during many of their debates.   In accompaniment to the dance Senator SusanCollins and Representative Congressman Tom Allen engaged in a duet reminiscent of a famous Broadway musical:  "I am more bi-partisan than you are."-  "No, you're not."-  "Yes, I am."-  "I can cross the aisle better than you can."-  "No, you can't."-  "Yes, I can, yes I can, yes, I can!"

I have taken some liberty with this description in an effort to make a point.  Each candidate seemed to take great pride in being able to work with members of the other party, the "opposition."-  Actually, this is an admirable quality when one is able, willing and effective in relating to a politician who wears a different label.  Yet, it is undeniable that this is still party politics at work.  Otherwise, wouldn't it be more appropriate to refer to engaging in "non-partisan"- politics?


To place the emphasis on being able to deviate from the dictates of the party leadership and engage with a member of the other party, who may or may not have engaged in a similar deviation, and take pride in being "bi-partisan,"- is in my view not an extremely attractive quality.   It says nothing about the merits of the issue in question or the principles which dictate such "deviation."-  In some instances what passes for bi-partisanship is simply taking a "safe"- opportunity to make a political statement that will be regarded favorably by one's constituents.

President-elect Obama is receiving a considerable amount of favorable reaction to his "bi-partisan"- approach to appointments.  It is not clear that he has selected the best people to implement either the platform on which he campaigned or what is in the best interests of the nation.  What is clear is that he has chosen individuals with demonstrated past achievements, but who definitely carry the identifying badge of one or the other major parties.  As I write this in mid-January, I do not recall a single significant appointee who is identified as an independent, Green, Constitutional Party or any other political label other than Democrat or Republican.   

Are we to believe that the most competent, most effective leaders among us are either Democrats or Republicans?  Or is it that to be competent and qualified one must possess a valid "union card"- and that card must be issued by one of the two major political parties? 

The future of this nation as we know it is going to depend on a change in the political system, one that supports alternative points of view, with those views  being treated with dignity, heard, debated and acted on.  Perhaps a first and important step in this direction is to begin thinking and acting in terms of "non-partisan"- positions and actions.  There are issues which override party considerations and/or the mollification of an office holder's base.  Among these issues are principles which are woven into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution:  the rule of law; accountability for transgressions of law; the right of habeas corpus; no torture; the upholding of the dignity of man; basic equality of rights for all persons; the right of free speech; the right to peacefully petition the government.  Each of us can add more to this initial list.

Are these not principles which each and every office holder should be able to  accept, endorse and protect?  These are principles which should be debated when specific legislation is in question, not from the position of a party member, but as a non-partisan representative of the people.  Congress should engage in these debates as a "committee of the whole"- without regard to party affiliation. 

Allow me to provide two examples of how this could look.

I submit that torture as a policy of the U.S. governemnt is one of those issues which does not lend itself to a partisan debate on the face of it.  Yet debate there is, and that debate around torture has become exceedingly convoluted, primarily as a consequence of those involved holding to a partisan position. Yes, no one in the U.S. Congress is about to endorse torture, and so the definition, past laws and practices are distorted in order to protect one party and in some instances both parties.  I submit that torture as a policy of a U.S. government is one of those issues which does not lend itself to a partisan debate on the face of it. 

The second example is the failure of Congress to hold members of the Bush administration accountable for transgressions against the rule of law, both domestic and international, and the Constitution.  Each party has its own rationale for coming to a bi-partisan agreement to actively avoid the pursuit of  Impeachment.  The Republicans of course do not wish to be tarnished as a member of a party whose leadership, which they supported, was impeached.  The Democrats for their part are fearful that they might be unsuccessful in their effort and therefore "lose face"- with the electorate and/or have an investigation which will be self-indicting 

In neither of these examples does the "non-partisan"- principled position emerge; principles which are woven into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  There is ample room for partisan politics on issues such as: the role of religion in government; fiscal policy; energy policy; foreign policy.  These are issues in which party platform enters the debate and party leadership can attempt to influence the votes of their members based on party position.  However, there are clear underlying principles, which are ideally shared, with respect to the "non-partisan"- issues to which I have referred.

The United States can no longer afford the luxury of a narrowed debate which is controlled by party leadership along partisan lines.  Our democratic form of government is at stake and the time to rescue it grows shorter and shorter


To our office holders:  Be not proud to be "bi-partisan ;"-  instead wear the principled mantle of "non-partisan"- with dignity and honor.




Herbert J. Hoffman of Ogunquit, Maine  is a retired psychologist who ran as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2008. 

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I am a retired psychologist living in Ogunquit, Maine. In 2008 I ran as an Independent for the U. S. Senate in Maine in 2008. I am a long time peace activist. More recently I have been involved in the impeachment movement, antiwar movement and was (more...)
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