If it’s a matter of policy, it’s a matter of politics
In the wake of the attempted Christmas bombing of Delta Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, a number of newspapers editorialized against the “politicization” of the perceived failures of the government’s counter-terrorism efforts.
My short-form response is that while not every issue need be politicized, most issues should be. Not to do so would go against American tradition. Political discourse is imprinted on the American psyche.
Airline safety and getting tough on terrorism are not Democratic or Republican issues per se. However, while the issues may be framed in neutral terms, there are differing approaches to how the government should address these issues, on a continuum ranging from the most progressive Democrat to the most conservative Republican to the most libertarian supporter of Ron Paul.
Nearly everyone will concede that major issues confronting America have been politicized. The revolt of the colonies from England did not have the support of the majority of the colonists. The transition from confederation to federal republic was roundly debated, giving rise to the well-known series of pamphlets know as the “Federalist Papers.” But how many people know there was a series of responsive writings know as the “Anti-Federalist Papers”?
One view of the Civil War is that it represented a dysfunctional split, not only between the North and South, but also between Republicans and Democrats. Gen. George B. McClellan, who later became the 24th governor of New Jersey, formed the Army of the Potomac for Lincoln. His failure to achieve military success against the Confederates led to his dismissal. In 1864, he was the Democratic candidate for president against Lincoln, running on an anti-war platform.
While these and other political issues may be deemed major ones in the history of the United States, consider a current issue in New York City that might be considered minor in comparison. This example also illustrates that the political split need not be by political party, but rather by political philosophy.
The controversy arises from the issuance by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of a pamphlet containing point-by-point information about how to shoot up with heroin. DHMH said the aim was to protect users from spreading the HIV infection and suffering from overdoses.
The brochure, produced at the taxpayer’s expense, has been called “Heroin for Dummies” by the New York Post, and has been described by New York’s top Drug Enforcement Administration official as a “step-by-step instruction on how to inject a poison.”
Regardless of whether this is a Democrat/Republican issue or a liberal/conservative/libertarian one, it is a political issue. While addressing the health of the populace is a laudable goal, how it is achieved politically is a different issue.
The dictionary gives a number of definitions of politics. The first entry is “the art or science of government.” The one that I find more interesting is “the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government.” I suspect the latter definition is the one that most concerns those who lament the “politicization” of counter-terrorism.
In order to practice politics under the first definition, however, a political party must successfully practice politics under the second definition. This means, in an elective democracy, that one party has to get more voters to subscribe to its platform than to its opposition’s. So, we are back to politicization.
So, if politics is the art of government, by definition, actions of a government, at any level, are tainted by politics. It this was not so, how do you explain the omnipresence of lobbyists? Their raison d’etre is to influence politicians.
Assume, and this may not be so, that all American Jews agree with the twin propositions that 1) peace in the Middle East is desirable and 2) any Middle East peace must provide for the integrity and security of Israel as a Jewish state.
While there are a number of Jewish organizations that lobby on this issue, the “Jewish Lobby” has become synonymous with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC identifies itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.” With a description like that, shouldn’t every supporter of Israel be also an AIPAC supporter?
But there is a newcomer, J Street, which describes itself as “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.” Whoa, not only is J Street pro-Israel, but it is “pro-peace.” AIPAC doesn’t claim that. AIPAC merely claims that it “has worked to help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong.” But J Street also is pro-peace. Shouldn’t every supporter of Israel also be a J Street supporter?
Obviously, this is a simplistic and sarcastic analysis. While not Democrat/Republican, everyone knows J Street is to the left of AIPAC. Hence, American-Jewish support of Israel has been politicized.
As the Hegelian dialectic posits, for every thesis there is an antithesis. Politics in a free and open society is based on that concept. It is human nature to have differing and sometimes opposing views.