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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Succumbing to Partisanship, Adhering to Principles

Believe it or not, I've never been much for partisanship. I tend to agree with George Washington and the authors of the Federalist Papers that partisanship leads to extremism and extremism is the most destructive political force known to history. I simply don't trust any party - even one I built from the ground up - to maintain its principles when faced with doing what's right or doing what's necessary to get re-elected (or elected in the first place). Power is a seductive mistress and principle is a demanding one. Very rarely do they go together.

I see it here at the local level - in Hoboken and in Jersey City. I've written about the method of co-opting challengers as a means of maintaining power. It needs no explanation as to how political office-holders can reward supporters and enrich themselves to retain power - we see that at all levels of government. This is exactly the sort of betrayal of values of which I speak.

However, unless and until political parties are banned altogether, they will be with us. I would much rather each politician and each policy build an ad hoc support system based on the value of their ideas, but this is not the way politics operates. To bind myself to "the way things should be" rather than dealing with "the way things are" is to do nothing more than ensure failure. The beliefs I hold dear deserve better than a plan to fail.

So, this past Tuesday, I swallowed my theoretical pride and voted as a partisan in the New Jersey Democratic primary. Anyone who has read this blog more than two or three seconds realizes that this is not a change of direction so much as it is a confirmation of the way I've been leaning for some time. Actually, I'm sure some will be surprised to learn that I am only now becoming a "real Democrat". Suprise!

The move into the Democratic Party is the result of the increasing ideological split between the parties. Once, both parties held a wide swath of ideological ground. Over the last twenty years, the Conservative wing of the Republican Party has pulled the entire country farther and farther to the right - while simultaneously violating any principles (such as fiscal responsibility) that I might have recognized as being attractive. The result is that the Democratic Party has become, more and more, my natural ideological home.

The primary political value I hold is that government should be a servant of the people whom it governs - not the businesses, not the wealthy, not any one group above all others. It exists to ensure every individual has equal protection of their rights - the very same rights we joined as a society to create. The natural result of this idea is that I tend to put a lot of emphasis on looking after the groups in society that are the most powerless and in giving voices to them. That tendency led me to support Carol Marsh in Hoboken and Jon Corzine for New Jersey Governor. I'm not saying Carol or Jon come from the same place in life that I have - it would be amazing to me if they had, in fact, grown up in a poverty-stricken family in Texas - but the things they say and the things they do truly reflect this primary value. This is also true of Chris Bell for Governor of Texas - except I am sure he came from Texas. None of these three are perfect, but they do create policy built on reality and look after the little guy.

Observant people will notice two new candidates I am offering support for on this site - Andrew Rasiej for City Advocate in New York City and Tim Kaine for Virginia Governor. Both of these actions are based on reviewing their campaigns - and in the case of Mr. Kaine, his record of service - and finding them to be in agreement with my principles and values. Although both candidates are competing for offices that are out-of-state for me, I feel that the pool of good candidates is too small to leave them out. In short, I believe they deserve my support, and I'm giving it to them.

I'm not paid by any of these campaigns - although I probably wouldn't turn it down. If any offers come in, I'll let you know. The closest I come to be "influenced" into participating is having a collaborative relationship with Micah Sifry, who works on the Rasiej campaign, and having made fast friends with Brian Urbano, who is on the Marsh ticket. I've spoken directly to Carol, and her running-mates, and have found nothing about them that gives me reservations about my ongoing support for them. I've spoken with people on the Corzine and Bell campaigns and am assured that they, too, share my principles.

Thus far, I believe I have been able to mix my new-found partisan standing with adherence to my principles. Those who know me also know that I'm not shy about criticizing Democrats or praising Republicans when those actions are called for. I expect to continue this tradition of speaking truth, if not TO power, at least ABOUT power. I've not reached a point in my life where I'm willing to trade principles for partisanship, and I hope that by laying things out and making the decision an open one that I never will reach that point.

In the end, the decision as to whether or not to continue to trust me is in your hands. Unlike elections, in this medium you do not have to choose between the lesser of two evils - you can choose as evil as you like. I've come to know a few of you through your comments and I know there are some who come and do not comment. While I cannot speak for all of you, I do believe that those I do know of will not be offended by this partisan standing. Agree or disagree, I hope you keep coming back and keep speaking your mind.

That is, after all, what freedom and democracy are for.

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