09 October 2009
Partisan Immunity and Rep. Rangel
"Partisan Immunity" is my term for the practice within the American two-party system of politicians evading or attempting to avoid accountability for questionable conduct by claiming that any demand for accountability is politically motivated for partisan advantage. The principle is at work in efforts to protect Vice President Cheney and other members of the Bush Administration from accountability for their condoning or encouragement of torture. It benefits both sides of the American Bipolarchy, of course, and it can be seen at work now as the Democratic party rallies around Rep. Charles Rangel, the embattled chair of the Ways & Means Committee who's accused of tax evasion. The public letter issued by the Congressional Black Caucus sets the tone, accusing the Republicans of violating bipartisan principles in their attempt to drive Rangel from power. While it can't be denied that the GOP wants to exploit Rangel's troubles for partisan advantage, that fact doesn't compel anyone else to suppress their indignation at what's been reported about the congressman. The reminder of the traditional presumption of innocence would ring more true if Democrats more consistently extended the same courtesy to similarly accused Republicans. But whoever's ox is gored, the argument is the same; the charges are less legitimate than they appear on the surface, but are part of a partisan plot to destroy the opposition or "criminalize politics." Thus, whether they intend to or not, the two major parties enable one another. Arguably, a modus vivendi exists based on the understanding that the shoe will be on the other foot eventually and the party that now hold the potential power to prosecute may be prosecuted itself in turn for mere policy differences. It all follows from the notion that there are only two sides in politics and that nothing is done unless it benefits one party or the other. It would be harder, though not impossible, for partisans to cry partisanship if there were more parties in government. That simply follows from the larger point: if you want to hold both parties accountable for the state of the country, you have to be ready to vote for other parties. If you don't, you enable the American Bipolarchy and you help perpetuate the partisan immunity principle.