Partisan Because We Have to Be

Just a quick thought here before I go to bed. It’s prompted by my (over?) reaction to something someone said on Twitter. He was admonishing partisans on the left and right who were using Bin Laden’s death to make political points. In so many words, he said they should grow up, that an historic event like this one isn’t the time or place. I took issue with that.

I have no stomach for laments over “petty politics” or the divisions that manifest themselves at important moments. In most cases, our differences are not petty. We are divided by deeply-held and opposed points of view. I have spent years listening to warnings about liberals’ “pre-9/11 mentality” and a GOP that insisted it was responsible for “keeping America safe” while rejecting criticism of misguided wars, failing strategies, and unconstitutional policies. The specter of 9/11 and Osamba Bin Laden were evoked again and again to justify or defend decisions that I and many other Americans found utterly repugnant. They were evoked to discredit alternate points of view, to defeat every effort to alter the broad outline of our national security strategy from the template established during the Bush administration.

So when Osama bin Laden is killed during a Democratic administration, the moment is already loaded with implicit partisanship. There is nothing beyond the cold comfort of a murderer’s death around which the country can come together. Every other aspect of this war has been defined by political conflicts that have had very real consequences here and around the world. The illusory unity produced by Bin Laden’s death cannot and should not change that.

    • Steve G. (OzymandiasAV)
    • May 2nd, 2011 4:23pm

    For the record, I wrote the Twitter comments that Rob referenced in his post. And, for whatever little it’s worth, I don’t really think Rob’s response was an over-reaction, even if I don’t necessarily agree with his sentiment. (In fact, I probably deserved to be called out for condescension, considering how poorly I worded those comments.)

    I’m not so naive to suggest that Bin Laden’s death can serve as some kind of triumphant Ewok campfire for 10+ years of bitter partisanship. His death and the cold comfort that we may take from it does not erase the enormous costs, both culturally and financially, that have been paid in pursuit of his capture…and I welcome any thoughtful discourse that puts the *entirety* of it into full view.

    Not all political discourse is created equally, though. And what I object to is the utterly tangential mud-slinging that spews forth from all channels of social and professional media. Useless, speculative and short-sighted vitriol like “Obama faked Bin Laden’s death for political gain” or “Obama is trying to find a way to turn this into a fundraiser” isn’t partisan debate: it’s ad hominem, inflammatory garbage that does more to destroy that full view than bring clarity to it.

    Important events like Bin Laden’s death shouldn’t be hands-off for political discussion: if anything, it’s exactly those moments that warrant the most vigorous debate. (And, if there’s a more glaring example of where my poor, reactionary wording on those Twitter comments screwed up what I was actually trying to convey, I haven’t seen it.) But, rather than dragging down all those differences into diversionary, obfuscatory bullshit, let’s have a *real* fight. Don’t throw sand in their eyes; stand up, stare them down and punch them square in the face.

      • Flitcraft
      • May 2nd, 2011 10:24pm

      I still think I may have over-reacted, but I appreciate the response here. I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you say here, and understand your point. What concerns me is the way attempts to be reasonable drive people toward facile “both sides do it, a pox on both their houses” positions. Without getting into more detail, without specifying what you mean, you end up painting with too broad a brush and (at least to me) that often seems like an attempt to marginalize people who express strong views. I know that wasn’t your intent, but surely you’ve seen the tactic employed enough to know what it often implies.

      What I find slightly more complicated is the way Twitter is a forum of people’s intellectual id. I’m never sure whether I should really let myself be annoyed or judgmental towards people who make a habit of being self-righteous or snarky, especially because I often submit to the pleasures of the latter. Twitter is half stream-of-consciousness rambling and half self-presentation. At what point is it worth calling someone out over what is, usually, a pretty minor and innocuous infraction of a loose, undefined etiquette?

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