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27 January 2014


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Charles I

Thanks Can't wait.

Duncan Kinder

The "dictatorship of partisanship" has been around as long as democracy itself and pretty much constitutes the definition thereof. And the alternative to "the dictatorship of partisanship" is the "dictatorship of dictators." So take your pick.

As to whether one should somehow serve some higher good or purpose? Of course one should. But that begs the question of whether any such exists or can exist under all the facts and circumstances.

Which further begs the question of whether the middle swath of the North American continent does or can constitute a coherent, unified, discrete social, cultural, and economic entity in the 21st century in a globalized, networked world - or whether it simply is an arbitrary geographic construction.

For, unless such a coherence can be identified and achieved, it would be at best a waste of time to expect anything other than some sort of political malaise within that framework.


Robert Gates comment applies to the American definition of "political party" and attempts to generalize from that to an abhorrence of "partisanship" in all its forms are doomed to failure, no matter what Havel has said.

The essence of Democracy is that Government actions represent the collective will of the voters for better or worse, not, "what is right", "decent", "responsible" or "just" in the eyes of some beholder, although we would hope that this is indeed the case.

In most democracies, as far as I know, there is a party platform of proposed actions and values, to which all elected members of that party are pledged to subscribe, for better or for worse. That platform is usually the subject of robust democratic debate within the party itself until the matter is settled. It is that platform that is put to the electorate on the basis of what you see is what you are going to get if you vote for us and we achieve a majority because we are going to vote as a bloc to fulfill our stated agenda.

Yes, I know that there are factions and coalitions, but that is part of life.

By contrast, the American definition of "party" reminds me of a herd of cats. Individual voting records???? Let me tell you that in England, Australia and most other democracies as far as I know, failure to vote with your party: "crossing the floor" is a career limiting move. Churchill did it Thrice from memory.

Gates is right to decry the motley collection of self serving oligarchs in Congress, but attempting to label them as a monolithic or even multi factional "party" is a waste of time.

To put it another way, I would label the Democrats as a "party" in the democratic sense if each and every one of their congressional candidates pledged to vote for an increase in the minimum wage and single payer health care and then did so on pain of expulsion.

William R. Cumming

Thanks Richard for another excellent post!

Margaret Steinfels

Gates at various point in "Duty" also laments the politicization of policy in the Executive branch. That should be no great surprise, yet he seems not only surprised but at times outraged. Of course from his perspective, party-politics largely affects Defense Dept/Pentagon matters that he thinks should be above the fray--military/protective equipment for Iraq and Afghanistan, and within the Obama Administration, but not Obama himself, an end to staff sniping at Pentagon officers.

Is he harkening back to some golden era? Is he projecting his own efforts as SOD to rise above party and to do what is best for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan of whom he speaks often and movingly? Is he a man who is trying to redeem his past CIA activities by rising about party politics.

Every peace monger and war monger should read "Duty" if only to watch a man trying to be dutiful to wars about which he may not have much enthusiasm, but which he accepts cannot be lost. An American story.


The way the parties are "evolving" in United States is nothing like the way parties were here even just a few decades ago. Until as recently as 1990s, "parties" in United States recognized that practically everyone in their ranks represented different constituencies with different ideals, values, interests, and needs, and that the goal of the party organizations was to help them arrive at some workable compromise, even across party lines if necessary. This has been in decline for a while, increasingly replaced by a few media savvy loudmouths yelling about what is "right" based on the beliefs of some narrow elites and imposing it on all the rest. (disclaimer: this is as big a problem with the Republicans as Democrats. There are as much loud mouthed self-righteous showoffs on the right as there are on the left.) Pox to them all!

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