I work in a newspaper office. It isn't the bustling environment you imagine from old movies, but you still see interesting characters. As you might expect, politics enters into some of the discussions.
Hang around a while and you'll get to see stereotypical partisanship express itself. In my office it comes from two sources most of the time. We'll call one of them Mr. Right. He's a sportswriter most of the time, but was invited to write a weekly political column in the interest of diversity of opinions. Leave him alone and he'll stick to sports most of the time, and apart from an irrational hatred of one particular baseball team he's tolerable. The other fellow we'll call Mr. Peepers. He's a born and bred Democrat from a machine town and he likes to taunt Mr. Right and get him angry.
Today, Mr. Peepers wanted Mr. Right to know that he had heard a radio talk show in which an avowed Republican had called George W. Bush the worst President in American history.
"On what basis?" Mr. Right demanded.
"He didn't really say."
It's not the first time I'd heard of a Republican saying such a thing. Jeffrey Hart, a senior editor of National Review, has said it, but no set of credentials would make the argument convincing to Mr. Right.
"Anyone who can say that George W. Bush is the worst President ever is ignorant. Beyond a doubt Jimmy Carter is the worst President in American history."
Mr. Right is technically a Reagan Democrat. He's told me in the past that he voted for Carter in 1976, thinking him to be a sound conservative Democrat. Carter drove him into the Republican party, but while the theoretical Reagan Democrat might be brought back into the fold (so Democrats still hope), Mr. Right is beyond recovery. He has absorbed the whole conservative ideology. Carter, he said today, drove the economy to the brink of ruin with wage and price controls, did nothing to end intolerably long lines for gas, and appeased our country's enemies. He had no accomplishments worth noting.
"What about the Egyptians and Israelis at Camp David?" Mr. Peepers suggested, "Carter gets credit for the peace treaty."
"That was Menahem Begin and Margaret Thatcher," Mr. Right replied.
I corrected him: "Sadat went to Jerusalem long before Thatcher was elected."
This made little impression since the two were fully engaged in their debate. As usual, neither was capable of persuading the other. Finally, a frustrated Mr. Right resorted to petulant sarcasm: "Fine. Have it your way. Carter was a great President. I suppose Reagan didn't do a damn thing, though. He didn't win the Cold War. That was all Mikhail Gorbachev."
"Actually, it was," I intervened, "He's the only reason it ended when it did. It's not as if Reagan invaded Russia or bombed it."
"Of course not, but he spent more on defense than the Soviet Union could match."
"Sure, but the main reason the Soviet Union fell was because Gorbachev was unwilling to behave like a dictator to hold it together."
"And you don't think Reagan had anything to do with that?"
"You make it sound as if Ronald Reagan put his fingertips to his head and sent thought waves through the Berlin Wall and made it fall. The fact is, no matter what Reagan did or what he said, if there had been someone like Stalin in power, or maybe even someone like Putin, there's no telling how much longer the USSR would have lasted. It might still be around today for all we know."
I know I didn't convince him, but he let the matter drop. This was one of our more civil political exchanges. Mr. Right is an all-out supporter of the Iraqi Occupation and an all-out enemy of liberals, most of whom, he proclaims, are motivated by nothing more than hatred for President Bush and god-fearing people. The next time he goes on a real tear in that direction, I'll try to share it with you. At the same time, you may find the robotic Democratic loyalty of Mr. Peepers and others in our office instructive or amusing. This is what partisanship does to people when it takes the place of original political thought.