When I consider what I’ll call Cultural Politics, which is the competition of narratives in the population at large, and which is what I consider the more fundamental arena in which the poltical contest takes place, I am all for non-partisanship: We should dump all of our ideological and partisan baggage, and merely strive to be reasonable and humane people, knowing that we don’t know, working with others in a disciplined and pragmatic way to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world. But when I consider what I’ll call Politics Proper, which is the competition over electoral victories and specific policies enacted through the political process in real time, I feel no choice but to become more partisan, because those more superficial but still significant and vital battles are determined by superior organization and mobilization of resources, and too much disintegration of efforts into divergent emphases undermines the ability of those so inclined to pass their preferred laws and policies.
I prefer Obama to Romney, a Democratic controlled Congress to a Republican controlled Congress, the passage of gay rights legislation, and humane immigration reform, and the preservation of our social welfare system, and more proactive investment in the extension of opportunity and the reduction of social injustice, and more attention to environmental and public health and safety issues. The reality is, in current election cycles, except very rarely at the more local levels, we are faced with an effective choice between two broad alternatives, and I will and feel that I must dedicate what effort I dedicate to Politics Proper working to see that my preference among those two choices prevails.
But there are many points of intersection between Cultural Politics and Politics Proper, in which the demands of both become more blended. While working, on the Cultural Politics side, for a less ideological and more imaginative and analytical approach to self-governance, I also work to move the political party I favor more in that direction (and often get as much flak from my own fellow Democrats for doing so as I get from Republicans for opposing them more broadly). And, if promising third parties emerge that seem better positioned to incorporate more of what I favor on the Cultural Politics side into their approach to Politics Proper, I will certainly work to raise their profile and viability so that at some point in the future they might actually become a reasonable investment in the electoral competitions that define Politics Proper.
But I will not relinquish the present to the party which I consider the less desirable of the two currently viable choices in service to some personal commitment to some dysfunctional purity of my own. We have to blend the pragmatic and idealistic and long-term and immediate demands that confront us, to articulate with the world in the most effective and beneficial way possible.
However, the demands of compromise move us toward reason in the next stage, after arguably moving it away from reason in the stage described above: Once we’ve organized in support of our preferred policies, we must compromise with those who have organized in support of theirs with which we disagree, in order to govern ourselves effectively and functionally. And, as a general rule, over the long-term, this requirement increases rather than decreases the rationality of our policies, and the quality of analysis and human consciousness that has gone into their design and implementation.
In theory, this process continues into the global arena, with nations that have hopefully developed to be more inclusive internally also developing in the direction of being more pacified and cooperative externally. There will always be divergent interests and orientations in play in this dynamic, within political parties, within nations, and throughout the world, nested and overlapping organizations of divergent and convergent interests, competing and compromising and moving toward arrangements that better serve humanity’s interests. The more we can rationalize and realize this process, the better off we all will be.