Partisan politics is poisoning the Syrian Refugee debate

Like with anything else, the shallow depth of bitter partisanship is taking an issue of substance and reducing it to a simple slap boxing match between political parties. Many political issues are viewed through the scope of a party doctrine, with those with their respective affiliation blindly hating everything the opponent has to say. Worse, this blind hatred turns into lies and distortion used to advance their cause on a special fuel known as vitriol.

Partisanship in general is hurting politics.

Michael Cianchette wrote in “He Said It Right” an excellent, though unrelated article, about how bad its gotten:

There are grumblings among some Portland Democrats who are upset that Ethan Strimling attracted Republican support in his successful bid for mayor. Such support apparently calls into question his liberal bona fides. They have used some unflattering terms for the mayor-elect and his supporters who dare to share a different political persuasion.

This is how far we’ve fallen. A Democrat gains support of Republicans and suddenly his ideological credentials are called into question by his party. Let’s not talk about his vision, his principles, ideas, and all the relevant things that will affect Portland. It’s all about this party thing, instead.

That’s where politics stands now.

Cianchette does a fine job discussing examples where he, a Republican, has supported or would be proud to support a Democrat. Why? It’s not because he’s a bad Republican, lacks conservative credentials, or is a dreaded “RINO”. It’s because he views individuals on their own merits and issues the same.

The general political atmosphere doesn’t see it that way.

Vic Berardelli wrote an article for Bangor Daily News recently discussing why people politically just can’t get along anymore, highlighting the dangerous state of partisanship.

An excerpt:

Cato Institute Vice President Gene Healy demonstrated clearly in a recent essay how clear thinking on specific issues gets skewed by the lens of party affiliation, which fails to discern even basic facts.

“Alas, political tribalism warps people’s perceptions of basic reality, convincing partisans they’re entitled to their own facts. That’s not new, nor is it limited to one side of the political spectrum,” he wrote.

Healy gave a striking example: In a 1988 survey, more than half of self-identified “strong Democrats” believed that inflation had increased under Republican President Ronald Reagan when, in fact, it had actually come down by 10 percent.

In a 1996 survey half of the self-identified “strong Republicans” believed that Democrat President Bill Clinton had increased the deficit, although it actually had dropped during his terms in office.

Knee-jerk partisanship blinded the respondents to the facts.

“In the battle between facts and partisanship, partisanship always wins,” noted Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor Adam J. Berinsky.

We see this in the news all the time. Partisan blinkers prevent real negotiations based on a common set of facts in both Washington and Augusta. Often, the political affiliation of the author automatically dooms a bill to the scrapheap without any discourse or investigation.

Sadly, it’s true.

Gun rights is a prominent example. Republicans generally insist that their counterparts are gun grabbers, when pro-firearms Democrats exist. On the flip side, Democrats often view Republicans as anarchists who want to enable mass shootings.

What purpose does either position serve the debate? None, beyond scoring political points for their respective parties with their base.

The Syrian Refugee debate is the same way. It has become a heated issue that has drawn a lot of controversy, and rightfully so. The Middle East is facing a massive humanitarian crisis and the world is facing a widespread terrorist threat. What do we do? On the one hand, it is the right thing to do to help those being displaced and lost within a war torn region, by taking them in and providing shelter. But on the other hand, terrorists have been using the refugee programs to smuggle their fighters into target areas.

There is no right answer, and there is certainly no ideologically pure solution. So why the political parties and their supporters are insisting on turning this into a partisan cage match is beyond me.

Yet, it’s happening. Republicans allege that Democrats don’t care about the terrorist threat or domestic security, with some even claiming there’s a plot to turn America into a Muslim dictatorship. This is wrong. While disagreeing on the approach to the issue, Democrats generally seem to be looking at the issue from a humanitarian perspective. This isn’t wrong, it’s just disagreeable for a number of reasons.

Democrats, on the other hand, are resorting to harsh criticisms, such as comparing Republicans to the “Know-Nothings” and labeling them as callous.

The Know-Nothing comparison is historically inaccurate however. The political movement, which was short lived in the mid-nineteenth century, was in response to the mass immigration of Irish and German catholics. A generally anti-Catholic and probably xenophobic movement, it sought to shed the country of what as perceived as an overwhelmingly Catholic influence.

The Know-Nothings perpetuated violence, even here in Maine. There was one incident in Ellsworth, where a Catholic Priest was tarred and feathered by activists, in addition to having personal belongings that included a watch and wallet, stolen.

Activists then cried out for Father Bapst to be hung. At a later point, when citizens gathered to discuss the incident, the Priest was blamed for apparently provoking that treatment.

That’s pretty callous, no doubt. But do the Republicans endorse that?

Absolutely not, no more than Democrats want some sort of theocratic empire in the United States. But these escalations of rhetoric exist to push a party narrative and score partisan points. It’s a sad degeneration of political discourse.

Congressman Bruce Poliquin, for example, simply stated in his statement that he wanted to prevent Syrian refugees from coming over “until national security agencies put in place effective processes to ensure that no suspected or potential terrorists are allowed to cross our borders.” Governor Paul LePage, according to communications director Peter Steele, just “has strong objections to any refugees who are ‘not property vetted and thoroughly screened.”

Neither individual stated they hate Syrians or that they don’t want Syrians here, or that they hate immigrants. They simply stated a reasonable middle-of-the-road approach where we could leave open the possibility of taking in refugees, but not before those claiming to be refugees are screened. This ensures we only take in legitimate refugees and not allow terrorists to infiltrate the program.

Going back to Michael Cianchette’s article regarding Mayor-Elect Strimling and the general state of partisanship, he ended his article on a strong note:

At the end of the day, this is Maine. The political poison that has spread across the rest of the country has had a difficult time taking root here — we’re better than that, because we have to be. Let’s just hope we can keep it that way.

He’s right. On any given issue, we are better than that. As it stands now, one might wonder we even bother talking and not just meet in the streets for a fight. That’s where we are with our words, essentially.

Maine is better than that.

Chris Dixon

About Chris Dixon

Chris Dixon is a libertarian-leaning writer. In addition to writing "Undercover Porcupine", he is also the Managing Editor for The Liberty Conservative and writes for Cleat Geeks and Medium.