Post-partisan politics?

As a continuation of my last article, which dealt with developing participatory democracy, I want to address my feelings on a phrase that’s tossed around progressive circles like I mentioned (Reboot Alberta, Alberta Party and CiviCamp), and that is “post-partisan politics.”

First off, let me say that I don’t like the phrase. Partisan activity is roughly defined as activity that supports a cause, usually political. It doesn’t have to mean a strident supporter of one political party or another, advocating for any policy changes can be considered partisan.

What people who use the phrase tend to mean however, is getting past rhetoric and all-or-nothing loyalty to traditional party/ideological brands. However, maybe I’m being a stickler, but I think that words become meaningless if we continually use them improperly.

With that said, I think there’s a lot of value in a non-dogmatic approach to politics that the phrase attempts to capture.

The biggest criticism I have seen from partisans and academics regarding statements from Reason Vancouver tend to focus on how any political movement needs an ideology to proceed, and how you just can’t do politics without basic, traditional, left-right assumptions. They argue that we must decide if we’re pro- or anti-big government and whether as a rule we should favour tax increases or decreases and then go from there.

And until very recently, I probably would have agreed.

I mean, the NDP is obviously left-wing, wants to grow government and raise taxes, while the Conservatives tend to be right-wing, want to shrink government and lower taxes. Meanwhile the Liberals ride the middle and do a bit of both, mainly when it’s politically convenient.

With this approach it’s easy to characterize the Alberta Party as the Alberta Liberals in new clothes, or Reason Vancouver as doing nothing but splitting the middle on every policy position.

But what I think I’ve come to realize is that politics doesn’t work like that – even within existing political structures.

Sure, almost every current party has a strict ideology that they try to steer toward. The federal Conservatives want to promote traditional values, hence cuts to women’s rights programs and support for ‘tough on crime’ and pro-gun legislation. But I don’t think that’s really why most people actually vote for a party.

This guest post at Daveberta really emphasized for me how people actually vote. People may have different beliefs about government, but generally they want a group of politicians that is not corrupt, is competent at leading, has a vision and has their interests in mind.

People usually settle for just a couple of those criteria, and hence you get ‘progressive’ Toronto electing Rob Ford (the candidate that seems to represent a change from what was seen as a non-working city hall) and ‘conservative’ Calgary electing Naheed Nenshi (who looked competent and had a vision).

So the move toward post-partisanship represents trying to actually connect with the electors, make their interests the party’s interests and maintain as open and accountable a structure as possible to counteract the corrupting tendency of power.

This quote from the Daveberta article sums it up perfectly:

What attracted me [to the Alberta Party] was the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds.  We may not always speak the same language.  We may not always see the world in the same light.  We may sometimes differ about the best options for Alberta.  That’s all ahead for us.  However, it is the spirit of working together, being respectful of good ideas wherever they come from… and above all the chance to build an Alberta we can be proud of again.

Every ideology has some useful ideas, the left has given us health care and regulations that kept our banks afloat through the crash, while the right’s emphasis on deficit/debt reduction is just good long-term planning.

Call it centrism if you want, but I think there’s more going on then simply cutting policy down the middle. I want to support and build parties that take the best ideas from anyone and put them forward.

This is why the Reason parties that I want to see move forward must be both open and evidenced-based and must eschew traditional ideological dogmas.

2 thoughts on “Post-partisan politics?”

  1. I thought a lot about this after attending a ChangeCamp in Edmonton last year, but I never wrote on it because the subject made me too angry. Now that I’ve had time to cool down…

    When people talk about non-partisan politics, they’re talking about a Platonic ideal. “Non-partisan” “politics” that actually exist are neither of things in the name; there is an ideology, and the ideology is timid.

    It’s just the same tepid liberalism we’ve seen for decades. Even worse, it’s liberalsm for people who think that having opinions is a bad thing. Even worse, it’s liberalism with a built-in excuse for making concessions to the right.

    1. “…for people who think that having opinions is a bad thing.” I completely disagree. I think it’s more about basing opinions on reality, evidence and outcomes. It’s more about challenging opinions then making them sacred and immutable.

      I think there’s an actual trend to put power in the hands of people – whereas apparatuses like the federal Liberals are very top-down authoritarian regimes where an elite few have a lot of influence and the grassroots are ignored.

Comments are closed.