The Folly of Political Segregation
George Washington loathed partisanship. He despised its effects and feared its influence so much that he dedicated an entire section of his 1796 Farewell Address to its evils. In that address he cautioned that partisanship “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption” and “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration.” Even worse, partisanship turns us against each other. Washington warned that partisanship must never be allowed to infect our body politic because it “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another.”
Small-minded politicians who placed party over country have verified Washington’s wise words countless times over the last two hundred years. The truth of his words was on display again by the audience at the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate debate held at Temple University on October 24, 2016. At the debate audience members were separated and seated by the candidate they supported. Viewed from the stage, McGinty supporters were seated on the left and Toomey supporters were seated on the right –– as if members of warring factions rather than joint participants engaged in the critical civic duty of selecting our representative.
When the debate began, the moderator politely asked the audience to remain quiet until the debate concluded. Instead, behaving like members of warring factions, audience members booed and heckled the opposing candidate and jeered those sitting on the other side of the auditorium. An older man, sitting next to me, booed so loudly I wondered aloud whether I had been transported to a sporting event. By the end of the debate, the boos, heckles, and jeers had morphed into a few muffled threats as audience members filed out of the debate through separate doors while serenaded by the rhythmic chants of protesters demanding Senator Toomey to “go home.”
Our politics do not have to be this way; its defining feature need not be vitriol. As citizens, occupiers of the most important position in our democracy, we can demand our politicians heed the advice of Washington and offer solutions instead of slime –– but will we? The most disheartening part of the debate was the way the audience relished in the partisan back and forth. Instead of approaching the debate as an opportunity to listen to all sides, suspending for a moment our own opinions, the audience doubled-down on its preconceived beliefs. Debate has no point if your mind is already made up.
Tomorrow you will discharge a citizen's most sacred duty –– voting. No matter whom you vote for, consider the state of our politics and, from Election Day forward, commit to pushing back against the partisanship that defines us. One way to push back against that partisanship is to support Philly Set Go, a bipartisan organization committed to supporting serious, ethical, and competent candidates, regardless of party. Philly Set Go believes if we move past petty partisanship we can forge a bipartisan consensus to successfully address our most pressing public policy challenges, including strengthening public education, reducing poverty, increasing job opportunities, growing the economy, addressing student debt, and ending partisan gerrymandering. We, as citizens, have the power to demand better politics. Let’s start by sitting together and listening to each other.
Photo source: Constitution Facts