As I write this, the nomination of Judge Gorsuch to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court is the current battle in the war of the 3 deadly P’s—Partisanship, Polarization and Power. It looks like the Republicans will win this battle, because it only takes a majority vote to change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster against Supreme Court judges. But as a famous general once said after a Pyrrhic victory, “One more such victory and we shall be destroyed”.
The Democrats are filibustering against the nomination of a perfectly acceptable candidate because they want to deny Trump his choice, and to get even with the Republicans for not allowing Judge Garland’s nomination by President Obama to even come to the floor for a vote. But the Republicans did that because they didn’t want President Obama to get his choice (of a perfectly acceptable candidate), and they were getting even for Harry Reid and the Democrats changing the filibuster rule for appellate court judges, and so on back to Judge Bork being denied. I remember the late Bobby Kennedy, brother to and Attorney General for the late President Jack Kennedy saying, “In politics, don’t get mad, get even”.
Ever since the rift between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams caused the formation of two political parties, Partisanship has existed. So this is not a new phenomenon in American politics, and to some extent we should accept this, and understand it is something we will survive. But there is today something more destructive at work than we have seen since World War II. Famously, Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, were able to sit down and talk, and come to compromise agreements.
The political parties used to nominate candidates who were chosen for their ability to win elections and then to govern. Ideology was real, but secondary. Party platforms drafted at conventions were feel good statements, often ignored by candidates, at least some parts. Not so today. The process of nominating presidential candidates has moved from being at least somewhat under control by the senior and experienced pols in the party. Now it is almost completely at the direction of the various state primaries, many of which have different and unique ways of granting votes to different candidates.
Who is active in the primaries, voting and getting like-minded people out to vote? It is the activists in both parties, who are the most motivated, and they are motivated by the ideology formerly relegated to platform statements. Now they are able to sway which candidate is chosen, and they choose the one whose expressed ideology most closely resembles their own. Thus, the rise of the hard left progressives for the Democrats, and the Tea Party conservatives for the Republicans. ( I regard the nomination and election of Donald Trump to be an anomaly.)
To these activists, people on the other side of the aisle are not just opponents, they are the enemy. No tactic to defeat them is too low or devious. Instead of merely about Power, and who gets it, the object is to discredit the enemy, either their ideas or their person. The desire is to eradicate the opposition’s ideas from discussion and consideration, now and forever.
The object is not Power to move the nation forward together, but Partisan victory to impose Polarizing concepts or actions. The result in a government of checks, balances, and elections is to create stalemate and the inability to move in any direction. That is how we find ourselves today with Judge Gorsuch.
How can we break the cycle we are in, of action and retaliation in an endless downward spiral? I can think of only two ways. One way is if one of the two parties nominates a different kind of leader than we have had recently, one who is more pragmatic, yet has the charisma to carry the activists. One who sees power as a means to reuniting the country and moving it forward, rather than favoring the narrower interests of the ideologues.
The other way is for the formation of a third party, that has a leader that naturally appeals to conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. The extreme wings will find themselves shrinking and increasingly irrelevant. We can survive as a nation for some time without either of those two occurrences, but not happily, and not ever after.