It’s not my party

Bipartisan. One could make a case for it being the new synonym for “unified,” or maybe even “good.” It’s been a buzzword around the country for the last few years, yammered about and clamored for by politicians and pundits alike. Survey data reflects this.

Bipartisan. One could make a case for it being the new synonym for “unified,” or maybe even “good.” It’s been a buzzword around the country for the last few years, yammered about and clamored for by politicians and pundits alike. Survey data reflects this. An October 2006 opinion poll showed 90 percent of Americans agreeing, “the best foreign policy is for the Democrats and Republicans to cooperate and try to find common ground that incorporates elements from both sides.”

Spin doctors have, expectedly, picked up on this. Few reports about the 9/11 Commission have failed to stick “bipartisan” right before it. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was officially titled the “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.”

We’ve got the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare and the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. John Kerry claimed, “The American spirit has no political label. In service to others and yes, in sacrifice for our country, there are no Republicans; there are no Democrats; there are only Americans.” And whichever side wins the election of the day is always quick to promise their support for bipartisan action.

So what, right? Isn’t that good? It seems like both liberals and conservatives alike agree that the United States needs to stop seeing things by party lines and reduce rampant partisan politics. Could that possibly be negative in any way?

Well, yes and no.

The problem with the term “bipartisan” is that it still suggests two black-and-white sides, and upholds our repressive two-party system. The problem with talking about liberals and conservatives getting along is that it reinforces the notion that the sum of our politics can be divided up into liberal and conservative.

And the issue of partisan politics goes far deeper than that. What we really need is to be able to discuss issues without using political labels. This goes for everybody. Using the term “Republican” as a synonym for old, white, gay-hatin’ codgers may seem funny, but not only does it not get us anywhere, it’s not accurate. When trying to encompass a concept as large as the whole of one’s political beliefs, no single-word label ever is.

The United States isn’t as politically polarized as we think. Hot-button topics like abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage get the whole country embroiled in a tizzy, but what we don’t agree on makes more news than what we do agree on. The famed 2004 Kerry-Bush map of the continental 48 states shows a sea of red surrounded by coasts of blue. But a breakdown of that same map by county shows a swath of purple.

There are very few people who disagree with each other on every political issue, but they do tend to find each other and make a stink in the press and on Capitol Hill. Look around at the people you think you disagree with. What beliefs do you share? When we look beyond hot-button topics and useless, arbitrary party lines, we find a lot more commonalities than we might think.

The creation of modern-day political language like liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, et cetera, is understandable, and has its uses, but by and large its modern-day employment as labels for everyone and everything has a heavy hand in creating this counterproductive “polarization.” If we talk like we are divided, then divided we will be.

Obviously, this is not a problem with a simple solution. But we can start to do something about it. We can address ideas that matter instead of all-encompassing ideologies that don’t. We can stop wringing our hands about “bipartisanship,” and start talking without reference to parties and labels in the first place. Our political system sticks labels on those people by default, but we don’t have to.

Barack Obama, a pretty popular fellow in today’s political world, said, “To me, the issue is not: ‘Are you centrist?’ or ‘Are you liberal?” The issue to me is: ‘Is what you’re proposing going to work? Can you build a working coalition to make the lives of people better?’ And if it can work, you should support it whether it’s centrist, conservative, or liberal.”

That’s the first part of the equation, and he’s got it right. But we need to strive for a world where using the terms “centrist,” “conservative,” and “liberal” isn’t needed. We don’t need a finite number of handy umbrella terms for us to cram all our beliefs (and leaders) into. That’s the second part of the equation.

To quote a fellow who was not familiar with today’s political world, Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Sure, in our kingdom we may try to get along with each other, even though we willingly polarize ourselves into two short-sighted categories. Does that make us “divided against ourselves”?

Unfortunately, yeah. It really does.