TCS Daily

Partisan Beating

By Stephen W. Stanton - November 1, 2002 12:00 AM

You may have seen the "priceless" picture of Philadelphia Flyers fans choking and punching an unlucky New Jersey Devils fan as onlookers cheer the partisan beating. Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident. Across the pond, dozens have died in British soccer riots. Even at children's sporting events, fanatical parents are prone to violence. A fight between hockey dads ended in manslaughter.

People are easily whipped into a frenzy over nonsense. There is no rational reason to bludgeon a spectator, regardless of his jersey. Yet as fans identify with a team, their chosen ally, they are driven to defeat the opposition. The original reasons for their allegiance are forgotten, and soon only victory matters. There is nothing to gain except the satisfying defeat of an adversary, on the field and in the stands.

This violence can teach us many things. Unfortunately, some political leaders have chosen to exploit only the worst lesson. They know that if people will fight and kill over inconsequential sporting events, just imagine how they will rail against adversaries threatening their very lives. The key to creating allies, then, is creating detestable enemies.

Every major political party exploits this aspect of human nature, though perhaps not to the same extent. Democrats are currently deriding all Republicans as overzealous social conservatives that will abolish cherished civil liberties the moment they gain control of Congress. A cartoon on the DNC website depicts George W. Bush pushing an old lady in a wheelchair tumbling off a cliff. The message is clear: Republicans are dangerous, and Democrats must rally together and defeat this menace.

Of course, many moderate Republicans are abused just for wearing the wrong political jersey. Democratic activists rarely bother to figure out which Republicans deserve their ire, just as militant PETA activists often throw paint at pedestrians wearing fake fur.

For example, liberal congressman Jerry Nadler recently appeared at a forum entitled "Iraq: the Next Vietnam". Nadler quickly resorted to scare tactics, telling the crowd that Bush has abused civil rights more that any British or American leader since the Magna Carta. His proposed solution, of course, was to elect Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. The left-leaning crowd ate it up, repeatedly shouting that Bush is more evil than both Saddam Hussein and Hitler.

Standing outside the event, Nadler's Republican opponent Jim Farrin offered voters an alternative viewpoint. Farrin is a progressive, pro-choice centrist. Like Nadler, he explained that Congress must be very careful to provide a check on executive power and ensure the protection of civil liberties. However, Farrin feels strongly that Congress must be vigilant to ensure that while Iraq should not become the next Vietnam, we cannot be allow it to become the next WWII Germany.

Farrin's message reflects the opinions of most New Yorkers. But Farrin has little chance to win the election. In fact, he has little chance to even be heard. The district is hopelessly partisan; Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one. Farrin may as well be wearing a Devils jersey to a Flyers home game.

In fairness, Republicans are also guilty of stirring the pot. Their own partisan cartoon portrays Tom Daschle handing out trick Halloween candy to unsuspecting children. Both parties create monsters to incite fear and anger among the populace, forcing adversaries to defend themselves against an uninformed electorate more inclined to use torches and pitchforks than common sense.

The major parties are not alone in their systematic divisiveness. Third party pacifists portray nuclear annihilation as a forgone conclusion if the US invades Iraq. Greens decry big oil companies as being so callous and mercenary that they would club baby seals for a dollar. In short, every party purports to have the only means to defeat the menace of the other candidates.

In this effort to smear opponents and create enemies, voters forget how much the major parties overlap. Many moderate Democrats and Republicans have more in common with each other than the leadership of their respective parties. On their nightly CNBC program, Democrat Jim Cramer and Republican Larry Kudlow see eye to eye on most issues, supporting pro-growth tax cuts, regulatory reform and the president's position in Iraq. They also share many of the same gripes, including the failure of both parties to demonstrate fiscal discipline.

Voters have choices. Those individuals that believe in both economic and social liberty can support some Democrats for their permissive civil rights positions. The same voters can instead pick Republicans to ensure freedom from excessive taxation and legislation. They may also choose Libertarians who ostensibly want to achieve both policy goals.

However, the choices do not always fall along party lines. Some Democrats do not have a great civil rights record. Senator Byrd, for example, was a KKK member and used the N-word last year on national television. Some Republicans have an abysmal record on economic liberty, supporting high taxes and bloated budgets. Clearly, voting along party lines often backfires.

Before we vote this year, we should ask ourselves: Do we support ideas or labels? If the Flyers and the Devils swapped uniforms for one game, would we suddenly root for the other team?



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