Together with many of my coworkers, I huddled around the computer screen watching as President Obama took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address. He didn't disappoint—after all, no one ever questioned his oratory skills. One thing, however, was gnawing at me, yet I couldn't put my finger on it. Afterwards I printed out the address and read it, and then it hit me...
Here's a challenge: Read the speech, beginning to end. And find a paragraph or sentence that couldn't have been part of a speech delivered by McCain, had he won the elections. Or even a speech by George Bush, had he somehow been reelected for a third term.
Did you find one? I didn't. And I read it closely a few times.
It's all in how you "sing" the wordsThe story is told about a boy and girl who went out on a date. After the meeting, the matchmaker called the boy's father to find out how things went. Ehr vill zee nisht ("He wants her not"), was the response. A short while later the matchmaker called back. He had just spoken to the girl's parents, and they insisted that it was she who had decided that the boy was not for her! "That's exactly what I said!" the boy's father responded. "He wants. Her, not." (Trust me, the Yiddish is much smoother sounding than the English translation...)
It's all in how you "sing" the words. Which you choose to stress, and which you mumble over...
It seems to me that the difference between the two parties is about the same. I admit that the following assessment is a bit simplistic, but sometimes simplistic gets a point across quite well.
Let's identify the principal sticking issues separating the parties in domestic and foreign policy.
On the domestic front, the Democrats emphasize the value of social programs and the role government should play in ensuring that all the citizens receive basic benefits. Republicans stress the imperativeness of a free market, low taxes and the elimination of unneeded legislation and waste.
When discussing foreign policy, liberals expound on the importance of dialogue and negotiation, while conservative talking points revolve around the importance of a strong military and the readiness to forcefully strike out at evil and those that pose a threat to our national interest.
But ask almost any Democrat whether it is important to preserve the economic private sector, lower taxes, have a strong military, etc., and he'd surely agree.
And you'll be hard-pressed to find a Republican who will say that negotiation, artful diplomacy and responsibility for the less fortunate citizens of the land are not part and parcel of the American ideal.
(Yes, there are some issues, abortion is an example, that seemingly find the two sides of the aisle irreconcilably apart. But I think that these issues are the exception rather than the rule.)
So what is the real difference between the two parties? I'd venture to say that it is mostly a matter of emphasis and application.
The efficient management of a nation requires many – and sometimes contradictory – components. Kindness and discipline. Idealism and pragmatism. Flexibility and rigid commitment to principle. Each party chooses to champion one side of the coin—while not denying the validity of the other.
In this sense, partisanship is not a negative phenomenon. One person (or party) cannot have a passion for two sometimes opposing positions. It is important to have different people championing different platforms.
(In this sense, the American people are not at all "hypocritical" for their vacillations: sometimes voting in conservative candidates and at other times liberal ones. I don't think this represents a real shift in values, I think it's a matter of which values they want to see stressed at a given time.)
In this sense, partisanship is not a negative phenomenonThe real challenge is for the parties to view one another as complementary to each other, rather than opponents. To understand that there is a time and place for everything, and working in harmony, incorporating all the valid viewpoints in both foreign and domestic policy, is the recipe for wise, compassionate and effective governing.
If this is true regarding the political arena, it's also true in our interpersonal relationships—whether they be filial, marital or business.
How much pleasanter and more respectful would our homes and workplaces be if we could view opposing opinions as complementary rather than antagonistic?