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When dialogues die, partisanship thrives



George Washington University


When dialogues die, partisanship thrives

Both sides can be wrong

Max Skidelsky


A quick glance across the TV or on social media is all one needs to find people in each party calling for the other to change, while demanding unflinching obedience to party orthodoxy as a model of morality. Politics need not be gentle, but it should not be a screaming match.

The tribal mentality should not be so dominate that you are pushed to extremes to call the other "evil" or "cognitively dissonant." You must support Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan no matter what they did, or you lose your status as a party affiliate. Heaven help you if you are a moderate, for that would mean you stand without principles of any kind and are an unacceptable anomaly. They are the Jimmy Carters and the George H.W. Bushs, but they are often made out to all be like Gary Johnson.

Moderation does not mean there must be a balance between two extremes—one side can and may be wrong from time to time. Neither party holds a monopoly on truth and virtue. For this reason, as two parties hold political powers hostage, virtuous politicians languish against corporate-donor lackies. The politically virtuous remain irrelevant and unable to rise to power, caged off from Congress.

This is precisely what George Washington himself warned against in his 1796 Farewell Address:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Yet the engines of politics today—which include social media—have also become a partisan battleground. This has been playing out on campus. Naseem Othman, freshman, and Abigail Marone, junior, are the latest politically active students to come to a head.

Othman wrote an opinion piece for The Hatchet condemning conservative viewpoints on campus. This prompted Marone, former director of political affairs for GW College Republications, to respond with a letter to the editor condemning liberal viewpoints on campus. She was then quickly invited to appear on Fox News to expand on this conservative defense.

This has renewed debate about political ideology and what it means to students on campus. It also led to many memes in the "GW memes for the 10th most politically active teens" Facebook page. Additionally, GW Young Americans for Liberty, issued a satirical response written by Executive Board Member Ted Veerman.

Common rhetoric around campus is that, if you are not a liberal, then you must be isolated. Conversely, if you are not a conservative, then you must be made the enemy. This pattern of delegitimizing the other side and declaring them unfit ideologies is seen beyond our campus, just over on Capitol Hill. Over there (as well as here) partisan groups emphatically stress that only my way is the correct way.

No one wants to talk to each other anymore. They demean the other as unforgiving or insignificant. There can be no meaningful discussion if there is no respect—not the ideology, but the people. One need not meet every liberal or conservative on campus, but nothing can be said of their inner beliefs based solely on who they follow on Twitter.

Talk to each other. Learn why some people care about one thing and not another. It is not a symptom of inhumanity or a lack of compassion, but of a different life. Only by absorbing other viewpoints different from our own can we develop perspective, and levy charges of inhumanity with any substance.

This is an opinion article.