There's no such thing as 'non-partisan'

There are a lot of lies, falsehoods, and empty clichés that float around political circles, but there is no cliché emptier, more blatantly false or overused in a more disingenuous manner, than this one: "This is not a Democrat or Republican issue.  It's non-partisan.  It's an American issue."

The only thing you can be sure of when you hear this is that what follows will be very partisan, hyper-partisan, and more party-specific than anything else you're likely to hear.

The term non-partisan is actually code-speak for this: "What I'm about to say is as partisan as it gets and if the opposing side disagrees even in the slightest, I will publicly criticize them as being demonstrably anti-American in order to score as many cheap political points as possible."

Both sides play this game and employ this rhetorical tactic.  When framed correctly, with sufficient detail and backup information, a skilled speaker can, in fact, make it seem as if every well intentioned American, regardless of party affiliation, should agree with this specific topic's "non-partisan" premise.

Here are some good examples.

Illegal Immigration

This is probably the ultimate example of trying to portray something as a non-partisan issue.  Conservatives say America welcomes immigrants, that it's a country built on immigrants.  America wants people who can add to our culture and society, who can contribute and help build a stronger economy.  It's unchecked illegal immigration that is bad for the country.  Illegal aliens break the law when they enter the country, and by doing so, they rob legal immigration applicants of their rightful process.  Illegal aliens often bring drugs, crime, and human-trafficking, and their presence puts a tremendous strain on America's finances and social structure.  Conservatives say, "Who can disagree with that?  It's not a partisan issue; it's just common sense.  We all want immigrants — we welcome them — but we want them to come in the right way."

Progressives say, "It's not a partisan issue; it's a human rights issue.  These people are fleeing violent, oppressive circumstances.  This is who we are as Americans.  We are compassionate and generous.  This is what we stand for."

In point of fact, both sides fully realize that the entire open border/illegal immigration issue is all about growing future Progressive voter rolls.  But both sides hide behind the "it's a non-partisan issue" smokescreen to shield their real intent and make their arguments more palatable to the casually attentive voter.

National Security

One might think the idea of national security — the confidence that one is safe from threats of bodily harm or property damage from foreign sources — is the quintessential example of a non-partisan issue.  Certainly, the notion that the government's primary responsibility is to protect its own citizens from foreign aggression would strike most people as well founded and perfectly reasonable.

But apparently not.  Using long-standing police and investigative profiling procedures to pre-emptively stop would-be attackers is now deemed, all of a sudden, discriminatory and jingoistic.  Prioritizing physical fitness, mental aptitude, and individual experience is such areas as police, firefighting, and military service is no longer the top concern.  One side says, "Putting human rights and being all-inclusive is the American way.  This is not a partisan issue; it's a humanistic issue."  The other side says, "The safety of the American citizenry should not be a discretionary, partisan issue, subject to the whims of fulfilling arbitrary demographic quotas.  Our safety must be our top objective."

In national security matters, like almost everywhere else, both sides use the "non-partisan issue" argument to justify their respective positions.

The Justice System

Whenever one side or the other is the target of a high-level legal action, invariably, they will cry foul and claim it's totally unjustified, that the other side is conducting an unabashed political witch hunt, intended purely to gain political advantage by besmirching the reputation and image of the target.  Right on cue, the aggrieved party will protest:

"This shouldn't be a partisan issue.  Every American, regardless of their party allegiance, should be concerned with this.  It's totally without any legal merit whatsoever, completely baseless.  If they get away with this, the other side will simply retaliate in kind when they're back in power, and our whole legal system will disintegrate into 'gotcha' chaos."

Both sides definitely utilize the legal system in an effort to secure unfair political advantage.  And too often when political legal shenanigans take place, high-ranking officials within the legal system are all too willing to assist, or at least look the other way.  When a politician shouts, "The legal system must always remain non-partisan if we're to have a just and correctly functioning society," what they really mean is, "Our partisan legal actions are justified and rightful.  Just don't allow the other side to do theirs."

Things are worse in this area than they've ever been.  Judges and courts are being used as political clubs like never before, and public confidence in the even-handedness of our judicial system is eroding fast.  The result is that both sides rationalize like crazy and try to sell the legitimacy of their positions to the public.  The "it's a non-partisan issue" device is one of the most important cogs in that publicity machine.

There are a lot of other so-called "non-partisan" issues: LGBT rights and recognition, public school curricula, public health, and many others.  One thing is for certain: when a politician hauls out the phrase "it's a non-partisan issue," you can be absolutely positive that what you are about to hear is as partisan as it gets.

Image: Lars Di Scenza via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 (cropped).

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