Drowning in the Swamp of Partisanship

For years we’ve heard the phrase “drain the swamp.” The oft-heard reference to Washington, D.C. – literally built on a swamp –  didn’t start with Donald Trump. Socialists first used the phrase in the late 1800’s, calling for “draining the capitalist swamp.” In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan found it a useful turn of phrase when he commissioned the Grace Commission to rid the government of bureaucracy (one could argue that needs to be re-commissioned), and Pat Buchanan used it when running for President as a third-party candidate in 2000. Current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even employed it as she and the Democrats campaigned against Republican control of the U.S. House in 2006.  

One could argue “draining the swamp” truly brings people of all parties together. 

The Swamp Still Exists

However, we have yet to see the swamp drained. In fact, it’s only gotten swampier and murkier. Partisanship in government runs deep. It’s practically as American as baseball and apple pie, as death and taxes. Is there a Supreme Court nomination? Instead of the Senate confirming the President’s nominee as a courtesy, it’s practically assured that the eventual vote will be down party lines with little overlap.

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, both Democratic Senators from Republican states, are currently persona non grata with the Democratic base for not voting with the party on various bills. “Why don’t they just switch parties already?” Republicans who crossed party lines, like Mitt Romney or Susan Collins, used to be labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by the loyal base. Now, it’s more likely they’ll be branded a traitor.  

Whichever the party, whatever the label, the message is clear: they’re not committed to the cause. 

“Traitors” in our Midst

Look at what is happening to Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY, At-large District). Not only is Liz Cheney – Liz CHENEY – considered a RINO, but even worse, she’s considered a traitor for voting for Donald Trump’s impeachment, not once, but twice. She’s been censured by her own political party, at the national and state levels, and she has a vocal primary challenger. 

You might think this this would engender Democrat support for Liz Cheney amongst her congressional peers, and in many cases, it has. In a hopeful turn, many Democrats do support Liz Cheney’s political courage and determination to do the right thing. (This would definitely be the case if a Democrat had been impeached, right? Right? Riiiiiight.)  But some extreme Democrats refuse to support Cheney against a Trump-endorsed primary challenger or even support her efforts while working on the January 6th Committee. When other Democrats support Cheney, saying they disagree on issues but applaud her for fighting democracy, Democratic partisans bring up the policies of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, or her stance on abortion or the other votes that make her “complicit” with Republicans. 

It obviously goes the other way, too. Because one key feature of partisanship is holding everything over your political opponents’ heads forever. 

In being so focused on Democrats vs. Republicans, it is easy to miss this critical reality: we will never have one party 100% in charge of every elected body in this country, nor should we. If one party represents such a diverse nation, democracy has failed. It’s critically important to have a healthy liberal party and a healthy conservative party, so there’s balance and representation.

Where do we go for Inspiration?

If we are hyper-focused on party, we also lose the potential for inspiration. Appropriately, Congresswoman Cheney received the 2022 Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation last week.  In her acceptance speech, she told the story of how her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was inspired by a speech given by then-President Kennedy to a school in Wyoming. As it turned out, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had had the same response when President Kennedy visited the University of Maryland.

“If you think about the many millions of young people President Kennedy inspired across our nation – across party lines – to service, people from Dick Cheney to Steny Hoyer…” 

Two young people with two different viewpoints. Yet both were inspired by a President, and went on to become American leaders in their own right. 

“The moral of the story is if you don’t like Dick Cheney’s policies you should blame John Kennedy.”

A Focus on Courage

Partisanship and tribalism have pushed us closer and closer to the furthest reaches of ideologies. The focus now should be on saving our democracy and stopping division. When that’s done, we can get back to debating policy issues.

“We face a threat we have never faced before… At this moment we must all summon the courage to stand against that. The question for every one of us is in this time of testing, will we do our duty? Will we defend our Constitution? Will we stand for truth? Will we put duty to our oath above partisan politics? Or will we look away from danger, ignore the threat, embrace the lies, and enable the liar?”

Will we answer our own call to courage?