A Friendly Approach to Partisanship

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The results of our recent national and local elections were profoundly pleasing to some of us while deeply disturbing to others.  When our candidates or parties have prevailed, we have confidence in the direction of government, while if they were unsuccessful, we lament the prospect of decision-making in the hands of those we feel are less capable or less committed to the principles we value. 

When it comes to major political parties, whose reach extends from local issues to the well-being of the planet, we often tend to look on one or the other as the embodiment of good or evil. Our judgments of members of the party that opposes our own, in turn, are becoming increasingly harsh.

In this environment, it is useful to remember the traditional Quaker view that there is “that of God” in every person, whether his status be high or low, rich or poor, relatively powerful or powerless, Republican or Democrat. While our recognition of God in others varies from person to person and from time to time, Friends believe that each person is capable of that recognition and of acting on it, and that we should act on it.

In seeking to honor God in all persons, the Friends’ approach is to consider no one as an enemy, regardless of what their present course of action may be. Though we tend to stereotype political parties and their members, the truth is that there are people within each party whose primary commitment is to the well-being of the broader community, and also people in each party who are committed primarily to their individual well-being or that of a small group.  Whatever their current outlook, Friends believe that each person is capable of broadening their view to include appreciation of the value and needs of people close to them as well as those more distant. 

Growing up in a Republican family, I remember that we were partisans for candidate Robert Taft in 1952 when he lost his bid for the Republican presidential nomination to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.  While at Whitman College in the early Sixties, I was elected vice-president of the Young Republicans, and supported Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for president.  At that point I was urged by members of the Young Republicans to advocate for the abolition of social security on the basis that “we will personally never need it.” The Republican Party at that time was refusing to consider diplomatic relations with Red China, then a quarter of the world’s population.  Because of that, I decided to become a Democrat since I saw that party as being more concerned with the well-being of the entire human community, or what I consider to be the larger Self.

What I am realizing today is that there are individuals in each party who are primarily concerned with themselves; and that there are others in each party whose primary concern is the well-being of the whole community—both Republicans and Democrats--often differ in good faith over whether the best way to achieve common goals in specific circumstances.  They especially differ over the question of whether solutions are best pursued by acting jointly through the government, by acting individually, or by acting through the private sector.  Since the world is a complex and changing place, our answers to these questions will be also change over time and will almost always require thoughtful debate. 

Though individual Friends may be as prone to stereotyping as others, the Friendly approach in these ongoing debates is to appeal to the best and highest in both our chosen officials and our fellow citizens, speaking to each other with mutual respect and without rancor. 

If we are able to do this, we can begin again to reach across the aisle and beyond any partisan divide, in order to deal productively with the important issues facing us.  Let’s put aside whatever current labels we have for ourselves and others, and devote ourselves to the mutual task of respecting and meeting the needs of all members of our broad community.  ~~~

Daniel Clark is clerk of the Walla Walla Friends Meeting, and is a retired lawyer.  He has recently published three books—“A Privileged Life: Memoirs of an Activist” (2013), “You are the Self” (2014), and “Notes to my Self” (2014).  His website is www.danielclark.zoomshare.com.