From the New York Times:
Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been president when the Transportation Security Administration decided to let Thanksgiving travelers choose between exposing their nether regions to a body scanner or enduring a private security massage. Democrats would have been outraged at yet another Bush-era assault on civil liberties. Liberal pundits would have outdone one another comparing the T.S.A. to this or that police state. (“In an outrage worthy of Enver Hoxha’s Albania …”) And Republicans would have leaped to the Bush administration’s defense, while accusing liberals of going soft on terrorism.
But Barack Obama is our president instead, so the body-scanner debate played out rather differently. True, some conservatives invoked 9/11 to defend the T.S.A., and some liberals denounced the measures as an affront to American liberties. Such ideological consistency, though, was the exception; mostly, the Bush-era script was read in reverse. It was the populist right that raged against body scans, and the Republican Party that moved briskly to exploit the furor. It was a Democratic administration that labored to justify the intrusive procedures, and the liberal commentariat that leaped to their defense.
This role reversal is a case study in the awesome power of the partisan mindset. Up to a point, American politics reflects abiding philosophical divisions. But people who follow politics closely — whether voters, activists or pundits — are often partisans first and ideologues second. Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing. Our ideological convictions may be real enough, but our deepest conviction is often that the other guys can’t be trusted.
You should read the whole thing. It’s Ross Douthat at his finest.
This obnoxious partisanship is a serious danger for Christians, since neither party is wholly devoted to the Gospel (that seems to be putting things a bit too delicately, doesn’t it?). For about a century after its founding, the Republican Party was the party of Yankee WASPs, while the Democrats were everyone the Republicans hated: namely, bootleggers, Confederates, and Catholics. Or, as was cleverly put during the 1884 campaign, the Democrats served as the party of “rum, rebellion, and Romanism.” To be Catholic, particularly in the Northeast, was to be a Democrat. When the Democratic Party went bad, buying into abortion, the gay rights agenda and the like, they took many good Catholic souls with them, folks who’d lost that distinction between “Catholic” and “Democrats,” and chose the wrong side when the two divorced. You still see this today: read virtually any theologically-liberal Catholic blog or newspaper, and note the way that the Vatican and the GOP appear to be interchangable. Nearly everything is viewed through the lens of the politics of the day.
Nowadays, we face nearly the opposite problem: good Catholics do tend to be a very Republican group, not because the Vatican and GOP are the same, but because the Democrats seem more committed to anti-Catholicism. But the danger is still present that they’ll forget whether they’re Catholics who support the Republican Party, or Republicans who go to Mass. And the consequences are very real: as I noted yesterday, there are some seriously anti-Christian ideas in vogue on the Right as well as the Left.
If we stay true to our Faith, placing our trust in God and His Church’s teachings above the political zeitgeist, we’ll be able to work from there to develop an authentic and consistent political ethos. Otherwise, we risk just be carried along by the current, supporting whatever moral or immoral thing “our” side says next. At Mass last night, the Responsorial Psalm was one of my favorites, Psalm 146, in which the Psalmist tells us (Psalm 146:2-5):
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth; that day all their planning comes to nothing.
Happy those whose help is Jacob’s God, whose hope is in the LORD, their God
That’s how you build up immunity to partisanship.