E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post adroitly explains the distinction in his column today:
“Hand-wringing over extreme partisanship has become a popular cause among learned analysts. They operate from Olympian heights and strain for evenhandedness by issuing tut-tuts to all sides, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.At one time the American conservative movement was based upon principled partisanship and the engagement of ideas. No ideology should go unchecked and both the New Deal and Great Society programs deserved criticism for overreach and excesses. That’s fine. Criticism is how we improve and the public is best served when our politics is an intense competition in the market place of ideas.
But the evidence of recent days should settle the case: This administration has operated on the basis of a hyperpartisanship not seen in decades. Worse, the destroy-the-opposition, our-team-vs.-their-team approach has infected large parts of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. That's a shame, since there are plenty of good people in both. Still, the tendency to subordinate principles to win short-term victories and cover up for the administration is, alas, rampant on the right.”
As Dionne notes in his column however, Republicans have taken partisanship to another level. Truthfully, the GOP engaged in hyperpartisanship long before George W. Bush was on the scene. Their power was contingent upon destroying America’s faith in government to legitimize crony capitalism under the guise of privatization. They successfully exploited racial divisions and persuaded working class whites to vote against their economic interests for a generation.
In recent years, conservatives issued dire warnings about the “homosexual agenda” and “secularists” as their instrument of fear and diversion. And for good measure, questioned the patriotism of anyone who disagreed with their failed national security policies.
Meanwhile, the hyperpartisans in the Republican Party were empowered by “bipartisan” Democrats such as Joe Lieberman who legitimized their corporatist war mongering. Has the bough finally broken on the era of conservative hyperpartisanship?
Democrats will use congressional hearings to expose how the Justice Department terminated six United States Attorneys for not aggressively prosecuting cases in line with Republican Party interests. The scandal appears to be gaining traction in the mainstream media and even some Republican legislators have expressed outrage about the Justice Department’s conduct. Perhaps President Bush will even sacrifice Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez the same way Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was shown the door following the November elections.
My guess however is that right wing hyperpartisans will merely be temporarily slowed. The zealots in the Republican Party remind me of the Bolsheviks. Vladimir Lenin surrendered territory to the Germans with the “Brest Peace” in 1918 to purchase breathing room and space. But he hadn’t given up on exporting revolution.
Similarly, Gonzalez will be sacrificed to buy time. But the neocons and conservative hyperpartisans will never give up on their quest to destroy unions, consumer protections and the fabric of social justice. Greed and hate is simply too much a part of their DNA.