It was bad enough when ideology ruled, when the factions viewed everything through the spectacles of whatever overarching worldview they had adopted. That almost seems like the good old days now, when it is partisanship instead of ideology that forms opinion. If ideology was a substitute for reflection, partisanship is a substitute for any type of thought; one only has to hold one’s finger to the hot wind being blown by one’s particular political or religious brand to know what to “think” about any issue.
Recent events illustrate this vividly. When, in the name of national security, airports began intrusive body scans and pat-downs the outcry was mostly from the political Right, who were defensive when the Bush administration began the process of eroding long-standing rights in the name of fear. Apparently everything changes when the attack is from the Left (though just how “Left” the Obama administration, which has continued Bush policies, albeit without the belligerent rhetoric, can claim to be is a good question).
Conversely, the Left has for the most part been strangely silent when President Obama extended Bush’s imperial presidency, which exercised its power by holding an American citizen without charges, to actually ordering the assassination of another citizen. Of course said citizen is particularly odious, an imam calling for terror, but it is always by such cases that precedent is set.
Or take the current protests in Egypt and other Arab countries. The Right fears the rise of an Islamic religious state, citing the precedent, apparently without irony, of Iran, where American support of a despot led eventually to popular support for the Ayatollah, who had led opposition to that particular tyranny, substituting his own. That of course is a possibility (will we ever learn?) but it is ironic coming from those who a few years ago were heralding the advent of democracy in the Middle East, before they got a taste of what that may mean.
This is not to say that such narrow partisanship is universal; there are men and women of principle and good will on both Left and Right who have not been silent, though they tend to be on the fringes, rather than in positions of power in party or government. But the triumph of partisanship is the tendency, and those of us who try to attain moral consistency watch helplessly as the body politic becomes stupider and stupider.