01 August 2008

Giving Up Bi-Partisan Politics

Far too often, conversations about political matters end up sounding like conversations about team sports: the party affiliation of the politician in question often has more impact on the tenor of the discussion than do policy questions. While I would certainly never criticize a fan's loyal advocacy for his local ball club, it is pretty clear that team loyalty is less admirable when it comes to politics. It happens too frequently that a policy denounced by one party as despicable one year becomes the same party's grand plan the following year.

Take for example the Republican criticism of Clinton for his military interventionism in places like Bosnia. Clinton was decried for wasting taxpayer money and sacrificing American lives at the behest of the United Nations. Clinton was again criticized for the suspicious timing and questionable policy basis for an Iraq bombing run in 1998 on the eve of impeachment proceedings. Senator Trent Lott said, "Both the timing and the policy are subject to question." In 2000, George W. Bush ran on promises of a "humble" foreign policy and no nation-building, questioning Clinton's use of American combat personnel in Haiti and elsewhere. He said, "We must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course."

Yet, the opportunity to attack Iraq proved too great a temptation for Bush as well. Like Clinton's intervention in Bosnia, Bush's military activities were partially obscured from public view by the use of mercenary troops. Clinton notably hired DynCorp contractors who were later accused of participating in sexual abuse and even child sex slavery. Complaints of human rights abuses by Blackwater and other corporate troops in Iraq are still fresh in the public memory. Although Bush's heavy use of Blackwater private security details and operational teams in Iraq resulted in a greater public awareness of the use of such private soldiers, it is clear that both presidents sought to make it appear that fewer casualties were being sustained than was really the case. Regardless of the scale of these engagements, both presidents seem to have forgotten that the secession announced in the U.S. Declaration of Independence was justified in part by another head of state, King George III, "transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation."

It is only by the deceptive hand of bipartisan politics that the population has been divided against itself with each faction eagerly supporting one day policies that it ridiculed the previous day. This election season, when the need for political change seems more desperate than any time in recent memory, it is vital that we as thinking citizens drop the team politics and worry less about which self-aggrandizing politico has his finger on the button and more about whether we need that button in the first place.

(Also published in the Fall 2008 orientation issue of Suffolk Law's newspaper, Dicta.)

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