As a blogger, here’s what I’ve learned about partisanship

In case anyone wants to critique this post as just random rumination, that’s all it is: reflections on thoughts after blogging for a half a year.

I’ve learned a great deal so far — especially from readers. It reminds me of when I taught adult ed, I used to tell my students that the best part of the job was that the students taught me more than I could ever dream of teaching them.

It’s just that the kind of lessons I’m talking about can’t be neatly packaged in a textbook or into one entry in a lesson plan.

I’ve learned that it’s hard to write from a non-partisan perspective because partisans are always sure that you are siding with the other party. I know I’ve written about this before (here), but this post is part two as the learning continues.

(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

One of the problems with our two polarized parties paradigm is everyone wants one side to be right and the other side to be wrong. Good versus evil.

But even in the epic good vs. evil fictional storyline of Star Wars, things just aren’t that cut and dry. Darth Vader started good, turned bad, but spawned one of the all-time great good guys.

It’s hard to step away from the simple dichotomy of two parties and harder still to bring that perspective to the table. I have this fundamental belief that most people are doing the best they can with the resources and knowledge they have most of the time. If this weren’t true, I think the concept of community would be almost impossible.

Given that premise, most Republicans and most Democrats are well-meaning people doing their best civic duty to what extent is applicable to the individual, just from different perspectives — unfortunately the diversity of these perspectives gets narrowed into just two platforms, but that’s a different thought entirely. This thought is just about the right vs. wrong, good vs. evil thing.

Once I stepped away from party loyalty, I began to use the same lens on both sides. It’s not always a pretty picture even though most of the players involved are the aforementioned good people doing the best they can with the resources at hand and what they know and what their party loyalties allow. This post is to say that trying to accurately portray that picture isn’t the same as suggesting anyone is good or evil or all right or all wrong.

We need to step away from thinking like that. Our political leadership needs to lead in this change. If the readers who responded to the poll in the previously linked post about partisanship are at all indicative of public sentiment, then a clear majority, 88.2 percent, want the partisanship to stop.

The polarization is getting costly on so many levels, and the Good Will-Hinckley hiring investigation is one example. Underneath all the details is partisanship and party cronyism. Partisanship and cronyism that bubbled over into the nonprofit sector and created a tempest in a teacup that the Government Oversight Committee (which is meeting again on the matter in December) is trying to sort out. And the committee has no shortage of things to do, as Beth Ashcroft of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability reminded members at the close of the hearing on Nov. 12.

Citizens, especially citizens in a state as poor as ours, cannot afford partisanship run amok. We cannot afford to have progress stymied by partisan battles. All the challenges we face as a state, from the economy to the drug crisis, will take collaboration.

There are hopeful signs that our legislature is ready to move in a more collaborative direction, but it remains to be seen to what extent Gov. Paul LePage will sign on to a better climate. Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau told Maine Public Radio that he has been talking with Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves about strategies for the legislature regarding the addiction crisis in Maine. Both understand the issue will take a collaborative, multifaceted approach.

And there’s evidence that such bipartisan determination can lead to real progress. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond and Republican Representative Russell Black were on a Maine Public Radio show discussing childhood hunger and food insecurity in Maine. Both are participants on a Legislative Task Force to End Student Hunger that has been proactively studying and addressing the issue in Maine.  

This task force has helped to clearly define the problem and the barriers that perpetuate it. It has helped to identify resources and support the creation of networks necessary to connect resources to need. This task force is a shining example of what happens when party politics take a backseat to genuine priorities.

I’m hoping we’ll see more of the same when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.