Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Matt Godwin (NDP): The Strengths and Weaknesses of Partisanship

Partisan Blogger: Matt Godwin

Partisanship is the evil twin brother of fidelity: One is desirable and the other is better left with the other evil twins, in the basement eating fish heads.

“Partisan” is a term which has become strictly pejorative. To declare a person as such attempts to devalue them by way of their motives, which it is assumed are shallow and selfish; it suggests they are unthinking and insubstantial – simply “towing the line”; and further, they are assumed to be unscrupulous and immoral. In short, the accusation suggests their points are rubbish and they cannot be trusted.

In many respects, the above is not an exaggeration. Partisanship leads to a defensive narrowing of perspective which serves to eclipse those points of view which might offer even the slightest deviation from a path already chosen. Whether contrary points originate from opposition sources or simply from contradictory evidence they are dismissed as irrelevant, ideologically or politically suspect, or simply wrong.

Partisanship leads to the distortion and/or death of otherwise good ideas. At the municipal level many City Councils in Canada are at least nominally non-partisan. They provide the opportunity for outside groups to pitch new ideas. The absence of a strictly partisan buffer and an opening for new ideas allows for innovation at City Councils, a porousness which the Westminster system sorely lacks.

Fidelity, on the other hand, is the necessary adhesive holding together individuals with similar preferences and principles. Loyalty to one’s party is a necessary function in a pluralistic society where preferences are cobbled together and aggregated into digestible wholes. Using ideological or party principles to ground decisions is not necessarily partisanship and actually serves to conveniently frame an issue within a larger basket of preferences.

Fidelity is a human resources tool in politics. Where some industries might consider a promotion based on excel or balance sheet prowess, politics considers fidelity. If you can be trusted, you’ve passed the first stage of the interview. However, fidelity implies conscious loyalty, rather than a blind, unthinking devotion – which is partisanship. A good political manager will accept deviation in private from staff because it filters out bad ideas and makes good ideas better. Partisan yes-men are for cannon fodder.

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