Andrew Kalloch: The Country at a Crossroads: How to Be an Anti-Partisan
As Oregonians, we can and should build the Beloved Community via anti-partisanship and a recommitment to the principles of the Oregon Way.
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I'm a proud Oregonian, the lucky spouse of @AdamsKalloch & father of two. Former: ACLU lawyer/Policy wonk. Current: Global Public Policy, Airbnb.
This month, there will be a new inhabitant of the Oval Office. However, when President-elect Biden moves in, he will be bringing some old ideas. Biden openly champions the politics of a seemingly begone era—an era in which representatives from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum turned “civility” and patriotism into social programs positively affecting millions of Americans.
Biden’s efforts notwithstanding, the scourge of partisanship will not end with the departure of President Donald Trump from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Like a virus, partisanship has entrenched itself in such a way that merely removing one part cannot rid the entire body of the disease. The spores of partisanship have infected every part of American life—from presidential approval ratings and views of the economy to what brands we buy and who we want our children to marry.
Partisanship has weaved itself into our political fabric and the strands are now falling apart. This political illness has widened distrust and disrespect, and fostered hatred between Americans of different political parties.
Sadly, it’s an illness that could have been prevented—this is the ticking time bomb of the American Republic that the Founding generation warned us about.
In George Washington’s Farewell Address, he cautioned that partisanship:
serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration...agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection…[and] opens the door to foreign influence and corruption.
Who knew 1796 could sound so much like 2020?
As the New Year and a new administration dawn, what the nation needs is a shift away from party allegiance and toward a radical vision of American politics as anti-partisan.
What can be done to reverse this trend? The first step is to recognize our own partisanship and commit to being an anti-partisan. To paraphrase Professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, we can no longer be partisan or non-partisan.
We can only be partisan or anti-partisan. But how?
Just as anti-racism is not about achieving “color blindness,” being anti-partisan is not about a renunciation of political parties. After all, not only are there stark policy differences between Democrats and Republicans—from climate change and criminal justice to foreign policy and immigration reform—but parties also provide value in our system as a means to organize coalitions and elect slates of candidates to execute policy priorities.
However, just as anti-racism dismantles racist policies through the active support for and expression of anti-racist policies/ideas, anti-partisanship is about directly confronting partisan policies—those designed to entrench party power at the expense of democratic rule—by adopting anti-partisan policies and ideas.
These ideas include:
Eliminating party politics from redistricting: Notably, last year, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, as reported in The Oregonian, “worked to block the proposal [to switch to an independent redistricting commission] from reaching voters.” Legal action taken by the Attorney General forestalled this anti-partisan effort—one that was supported by a wide array of good government groups, including the League of Women Voters.
Requiring “open” primaries: Oregon is one of just nine states with fully “closed” primaries that limit primary involvement to voters who register with a party. This system effectively disenfranchises voters who choose not to register with a party. These “non-affiliated” voters (NAV) form a group that has surged in recent years since the passage of Oregon’s “Motor Voter” law. At the end of 2015, before the Motor Voter law took effect, there were 527,000 NAVs, roughly 1 in 4 of all Oregon registered voters. By December 2020, there were nearly 940,000, almost more than 1 in 3 registered voters and fast approaching the number of registered Democrats in Oregon (1.05 million as of December 2020)
Limiting supermajority requirements: Supermajority requirements that allow a party to exercise veto power despite losing elections—such as the filibuster in the U.S. Senate or Oregon’s now nationally notorious quorum rules and 3/5 requirement for legislation that would increase revenue—erect significant roadblocks to majority (democratic) rule, which can further entrench partisanship.
Preventing parties from limiting the power of incoming administrations during lame duck sessions: Lawmakers should not be able to lose elections and then limit the powers of their successors during lame duck periods. Republicans in North Carolina did precisely this in 2016, following the Party’s loss of the Governor’s mansion. These partisan efforts included a particularly odious provision that stripped the incoming governor of control over the State Board of Elections, thereby maintaining the GOP’s control of the State’s elections.
Ultimately, commitment to these policies is a necessary, but insufficient condition for anti-partisanship. Real change will require something deeper: a personal effort to uproot partisan thought/bias, change the way we see, hear, and understand one another, and actively and intentionally remove ourselves from the partisan bubbles of geographic sorting and algorithmic bias.
This effort promises not only a better politics, but a better life, for individuals and our communities writ large. It brings us closer to the “Beloved Community” of Dr. King— one defined by the late John Lewis as:
Beloved meaning not hateful, not violent, not uncaring, not unkind, and community meaning not separated, not polarized, not locked in struggle; the Beloved Community is an all-inclusive world society based on simple justice, the values, the dignity, and the worth of every human being.
As Oregonians, we can and should build the Beloved Community via anti-partisanship and a recommitment to the principles of the Oregon Way. As Senator Ron Wyden told a Coos Bay audience in 2017, The Oregon Way is “about taking good ideas wherever they come from...ideas where we respect each other and we follow inclusive politics where we don't leave anyone behind.”
In the months to come, as partisan appeals flood your inboxes and mailboxes, resist the divisive bait and join the anti-partisan alliance intent on protecting the great American experiment. As Benjamin Franklin said, “It’s a Republic, if you can keep it.”
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