Friday, March 26, 2010

The Blight of Hyperpartisanship

by Marina Mahathir

Reading through some articles about US politics recently I came across this term 'hyperpartisanship'. It mostly refers to a situation where politicians on different sides of the fence are so adversarial that nothing really gets done. Politicians get so wrapped up in fighting the other side that they forget about the real people they should be serving, which is their constituents. Whatever the other side says or does is wrong simply because they are on the other side. Nobody actually sits down to analyse the merits or demerits of anything properly and certainly never gives credit where it might be due.

The result is that in places like the US Congress sometimes bills don't get passed and there is paralysis in governing. Some people thus think that hyperpartisanship is something that needs to be eradicated. One commenter however says that " hyper-partisanship is properly understood not as the virus we seek to eradicate, but rather just another symptom of a much deeper affliction: laziness."

That may be applicable when thinking about our Parliament which is no doubt a hyperpartisan place. In the US, sometimes there is room for independent thinking which is why in the recent Healthcare bill debate, there were Democrats opposed to it even though the bill was the brainchild of the Democratic President. The opponents had their reasons for their opposition and all were given time to air their opinions, after which they had to be countered. In the end, the Healthcare bill was passed because some of the opponents were persuaded to switch their stand. (The bill passed with a tiny majority, 219 v 212).

But here I think hyperpartisanship is a real disease and often a real symptom of laziness. You so rarely see well-researched arguments against anything coming from the other side. It always seems as if knee-jerk reactions are the order of the day. "If it comes from them, it must not be good" seems to be the prevailing thinking. The debate then is less about the merits or demerits of the subject in question but instead just name-calling and politicising.

In the States, many people are fed-up with politicians because of the hyperpartisanship. Over here, I'm beginning to feel the same too. Can't anyone talk in a civilised manner anymore? Are good ideas the exclusive province of only one side and not anyone else?

Today I saw an excellent statement by Wanita PR decrying sexist remarks by a Minister. I thought it was great. But I think that the Wanita BN (who lead the women's caucus in Parliament) should also join in and do the same. After all, a sexist remark insults all women, not just some. Is it because the criticism came from Wanita PR? And is there a policy of never criticising your own no matter how badly behaved they are? Our women should learn that every time they are silent when their own men behave badly, they encourage the men to continue such outrageous behaviour with impunity. (Of course I am also keen to see if Wanita PR would criticise their own male colleagues should they also utter such remarks. But so far there has been no reason to do so, at least publicly.)

This is a prime example of how hyperpartisanship does nothing for the rest of us, we who vote these people in. Firstly we put them there because we want them to get on with work and not spend all their time insulting one another. And secondly, if any of them insults any of us, whether females, disabled, of a particular race or religion, we want them to be censured, regardless of who they are.

But today we even get Deputy Speakers using uncouth language. I have never heard of anyone who uses uncouth language on people who are not his close friends and then says it wasn't meant to offend. You can call your buddies whatever name you want and they would understand that you don't mean it. But you can't use it on anyone else and not expect them to be offended. "Tak sengaja" is not an excuse because when people are offended, they are offended.

(This is a bit different from the American commentator Ann Coulterwho actually sets out to offend. In a recent speech in Canada, she told a Muslim student to go take a flying carpet or failing that, a camel. At least the woman doesn't hide behind the 'tak sengaja' excuse.)

In our political scene, politicians insult others on the other side of the fence simply because they are on the other side of the fence. But they forget that in using sexist or racial epithets, they also insult those on their side. Their own colleagues may say nothing to them but that doesn't mean they are not disturbed by what was said . I hope at the very least there are private initiatives within the party to stop these insults, although judging by the continuing misbehaviour, they must be having no effect.

(I must say it is quite unique for a Malay to insult other Malays by saying that we used to live in the jungle on trees. What's up with that??? He should apologise to us all.)

The sum of it all is that politicians should stop talking rubbish and get to work. There are so many things that need to be fixed in our country; what else did we put them there for?

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