And When is Partisan Really Partisan?

Have you been called partisan recently? I think it happens to me about five times a day. Either in an e-mail, or a comment, or, worse, in an e-mail about my alleged partisanship which is sent to my boss… or to just random people at my work with important-sounding titles, people who could probably get me in trouble. I get called “partisan” a lot.

Though I don’t like being labeled that way, I don’t mind as much as I used to. You see, the word “partisan” actually has a definition, one that precludes people from using it the way most of them do. Let me explain.

According to Merriam-Webster, “partisan” refers to

“a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause or person; especially one exhibiting blind, prejudiced and unreasoning allegiance.”

The word can also refer to a soldier on a particular side in a war, but since I’m not in the habit of being seen publicly wearing fatigues and toting semi-automatic weapons whilst dangling a machete from my belt and chomping on a half-smoked cigar, I’m guessing that my critics are referring to the above definition.

So let’s be clear. Based on that definition, one’s not partisan just because they are a card-carrying member of this or that group. And it’s not just that one is taking a stand, or defending their beliefs. If it were, then arguing in favor of the right to life would be considered partisan, and…well… I suppose it is to some, which is just my point. People don’t use the word correctly.

But if just standing up for what you believed in were partisan then everyone is partisan and the word is meaningless.  Rather, according to the definition above, it’s the “blind, prejudiced and unreasoning” aspect of the thing that makes the word a suitable epithet. It’s the fact that one adheres to a group or idea with such unreasonable zeal or without even bothering to consider the opposing view that makes one partisan.

So here’s the first important point: What makes one partisan is the interior mechanism by which one stays loyal to a group or idea or person. It is not, I repeat NOT, about the effects that one’s position or statement or action might have on another group.

I’ve been called partisan for my criticism of the HHS Mandate. To what am I adhering with such blind unreasonableness? Well, there’s the rub. The critics can’t believe that it’s the faith to which I’m holding fast. It cannot possibly be the teaching of Vatican II which tells us that

“all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”Dignitatis humanae #2

No no. My critics have to presume that my speech at our local Fortnight for Freedom Rally or my articles on the subject here at CatholicVote.org and the rest is actually motivated by a blind, unthinking prejudice against President Obama the candidate or for the Republican Party. Yes, that has to be it. It can’t be about what I actually say and write.

Now how do my critics have this prescient understanding of my inner thoughts, wants and desires? Well they figure that because the effect of my efforts could be negative for the Obama campaign …well then, ipso facto, it is partisan activity.

That some of the things I and other have said and written might have a negative effect for the White House is probably true. This is why the mainstream media didn’t report on the Fortnight. But again, that there is a negative effect doesn’t make something partisan. Please see the definition above.

Look, the struggle for civil rights was a human issue that had obvious political ramifications, but would anyone claim that the Rev. Martin Luther King was being partisan because one party was for segregation and the other was not?

This is not to compare the abuses against African-Americans to what is happening to Catholics here and now, but that’s neither here nor there. The principle to which the bishops are appealing through the Fortnight and other venues is the same one used by Rev. King and the very same one to which I appeal when criticizing the HHS Mandate. The principle is the freedom of conscience. So it doesn’t matter which party adheres to what. What matters is that we human beings have a dignity that demands our standing up for the truth.

This is no good for the critics. I’m still a partisan because my principled stand negatively affects one party over another. Indeed, this has been a common claim against the bishops and many pro-life Catholics over the years. Doug Kmiec referred to Catholic Answers as “Republican Faith Partisans” because their “non-negotiable” issues lined up with the Republican Party platform.

Now, I personally believe that Catholic Answers should have included torture in that list of non-negotiables, but calling Catholic Answers partisan ignores the possibility that those issues are IN FACT non-negotiable. Who cares how it affects a political party? It’s not our job as Catholics to prop up the Republican Party or to defend the Democratic Party. Our job is to stay true to the teaching of the Church for the sake of the common good, and if the common good demands that we defend unborn life, marriage, embryonic life, the elderly and the ill, as well as the integrity of humanity against cloning… well then… that’s what the common good demands.

What if there were a political party that were against allowing, oh… I don’t know… against allowing Jews to vote for instance, and the other party had no problem with Jewish suffrage, would it be partisan to defend the Jew’s right to self determination through the political process? Is it the defender’s fault that one political party has defined itself as being anti-Semitic? Why is one side partisan because the other side choses issues that stand diametrically opposed to the Church’s teaching?

See, I get nervous when Catholic pundits start making the argument that we should all just keep our traps shut lest something we say might look bad for one particular party.

The fact of the matter is that it is the Obama administration and the Democratic Party that has chosen these issues at this time. To say that the bishops are at fault for defending our basic human right is to blame the victim and then to accuse them of slander for daring to point out the abuse. Or it’s like this: it would be like accusing Pope John Paul II of partisanship for decrying war before and after the U.S. started to attack Iraq. It may be a lot of things, but it ain’t partisan.

Now some other of my critics say that 501(c)3’s like the Catholic Church are barred from lobbying. Decrying the HHS Mandate at an event sponsored by the Church as I did is lobbying and verboten – as the Germans would say. And to this one just has to say, “Phooey.”

The truth is that non-profits are allowed to lobby for or against particular legislative issues. The IRS says that (c)3’s are not allowed to devote “a substantial part” of their activities to lobbying, and they are not allowed to support or attack a particular candidate. But non-profits like the Church can indeed lobby through grassroots efforts for or against laws, and this is what the Church is doing now.

To claim that the Church is being partisan for lobbying is to ignore the rules of the IRS and it is limiting the Church’s free speech… and of course it is still using the word incorrectly.

Another argument I’ve heard goes something like this: well I agree with you Omar – if that’s your real name – but we critics are more worried with the practical effect of your choices here. You might be defending the faith. But the point is that you appear to be partisan, and that perception is hurting the Church and driving Catholics away.

Yes…well… here’s another truism for you: perception is NOT reality. Reality is reality. This is sacrilege in a media-driven world, I know, but I don’t care. I understand that no one wants bravado when it comes to defending a position. When more measured and accurate language will suffice, extreme rhetoric can lead people to conclude that one is partisan. It is true that we should try to be measured. But the idea that our fear for how our society thinks of us should keep us quiet about a fundamental injustice is asinine. What happened to speaking truth to power, after all?

As for the notion that I and others are driving Catholics away, I just have to ask, “Which Catholics?” About only a third of American, self-described Catholics attend Mass with weekly regularity… and that’s being optimistic. It seems there are a lot of Catholics who aren’t practicing already, that is before I even bothered to have my first cup of coffee this morning, much less started spouting partisan rhetoric… as is apparently my wont, if you believe me critics.

Interestingly, many of the same critics had no problem with the bishops lobbying for the reduction of nuclear arms. Yesterday’s bishops were being prophetic but today’s bishops are partisan. Frankly, that smacks of partisanship itself.

No, I say it is the critics that are partisan. The defining characteristic of being partisan is not that you stand up for something. It is not just being firm about a cause or a movement or faction that happens to have political ramifications. It is certainly not vying against a law you consider unjust. It’s the “blind, prejudiced and unreasoning allegiance” to something.

With that perspective in mind, notice that these critics tend to have been vocal supporters of the Obama administration, men and women who often do not agree with the Church’s teaching on contraception or even that it is the bishops’ responsibility to guard that teaching. I think it is either an unreasoning allegiance to the Democratic Party or against the Republican that has caused these critics to be blind to the strictures on religion in our culture and increasingly in the law?

I see non-Catholics, and Democrats, and people of nearly every political and religious stripe say publicly that the Obama administration is violating religious freedom. Yet there are still Catholics out there who cry “partisanship.” How so? Even William Galston thinks the HHS Mandate violates the bipartisan Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, and he used to work for the Clinton Administration. Does anyone recall the Hosanna-Tabor case which the administration lost 9-0? What can it be but partisanship that keeps these critics from seeing a pattern of attack against our religious freedom?

Sorry, but that kind of “unreasoning allegiance” to the Democratic Party or against the Republican Party is the very definition of partisanship, and it should be abandoned. I’d say the same to those who similarly defend the Republican Party over the Democratic as well, by the way… which is probably why I’m so often called a liberal, leftist nut too. At any rate, when it is these folks that call me “partisan” several times over, before I’ve even had a chance to check the box scores that day, I don’t mind so much…not anymore.

Now, if the matter were about the unassailable fact of the evil that is the New York Yankees, well then… that makes more sense, I’m waaaaay partisan there. Go Tribe.

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26 thoughts on “And When is Partisan Really Partisan?

  1. Hector says:

    Good job Omar.

    1. Omar Gutierrez says:

      Thanks Hector.

  2. Mike says:

    Omar,
    You make a lot of good points. However, I would have enjoyed the article more (and been more likely to share it) if I hadn’t felt like there was a bit of whining happening. You can make your points about partisanship and the worth of your positions having nothing to do with partisanship, without constantly referring to yourself and your critics. People are much more likely to hear an argument if you never mention the people on the other side of the argument. Whether you intend to attack them or not, even whether you actually have or not, if you constantly mention them like that, the article is not going to be well received. Many people will PERCEIVE that you are attacking your opponents rather than making a reasonable argument.

    1. Omar Gutierrez says:

      That would make sense to me Mike, and I might follow your advice in the future, except that I find the idea that pointing out the errors of my opponents equals unreasonable argument to be ridiculous. You’re not necessarily saying that, but you are saying that many won’t appreciate the logic in the article because they don’t like the fact that I present that logic in the context of what other people have argued. I just think that is short-changing a lot of people. What’s more, “whining”? How is it whining to refer to personal experience when trying to contextualize an issue? Lastly, I just don’t agree with you that people are more likely to hear an argument if I never mention the people on the other side. It’s not like I have listed names Mike. I’ve simply said that there are critics. Critics of me, of CatholicVote, of the bishops, critics. That’s off limits? No, sorry. If the reader is so sensitive that they cannot handle my mentioning critics of the bishops, then I think they need to mature just a bit. Sorry, but that’s how I see it… Thanks for commenting.

  3. Tori says:

    Great article! I definitely feel like I get the “partisan” treatment. People also accuse me of blindly following my faith and not giving real thought to these issues. Of course they are wrong. Just because I adhere to what the Catholic Church teaches doesn’t mean that I haven’t given things proper thought and consideration. I guess they just can’t believe that the results of my pondering would leave me clinging even more tightly to the Rock.

    1. Omar Gutierrez says:

      Exactly Tori. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Mara says:

    Omar, how does your statement “The critics can’t believe that it’s the faith to which I’m holding fast” relate to your statement that “perception is NOT reality. Reality is reality?” How can faith be reality when faith is based on the lack of provability? If the existence of God can not be proven and therefore God can not be measured, where’s the reality? Also, if it can not be proven that the teachings of the Catholic faith are accurate, where is reality here? Faith, in my opinion, is the lack of reality and not the proof of reality. Faith seems to be the belief in something that can not be proven and is therefore, partisan: “a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause or person; especially one exhibiting blind, prejudiced and unreasoning allegiance.” Isn’t one who holds on to faith all of these things?

    1. Omar Gutierrez says:

      Mara, you have an anemic understanding of the word “faith” which is a kind of knowing. Indeed, much of what you claim to know is actually a kind of faith as well, yet you do not question that you know it. If you want to engage in a debate about the nature of faith and reality I would recommend visiting any number of the very good Catholic apologetic websites that deal with atheists and their arguments. In short, you are wrong that believers are by definition partisans.

      1. Mara says:

        Omar, how is faith a kind of knowing? My definition of faith is “belief that is not based on proof,” and comes from the dictionary. If that’s not your definition then by all means, feel free to give us your definition.

        1. Joe M says:

          Mara. Can you prove absolutely that Omar exists? Or, are you communicating with him based on faith that he does?

          1. Mara says:

            I’m not communicating with Omar because I have data that he exists or because I have faith that he exists. I’m responding to a post that appears to be on my computer. I’ve gotten responses from what appears to be someone other than myself. I assume that the response is coming from a human being but I have no actual proof of that. However, I do have what appears to be consistent past information that no non-human has ever responded to me by typing words. I cannot prove that a person is actually responding to me because it’s possible that a computer is responding to me. Now, what does this have to do with my previous posts regarding faith and proof? And what is your point regarding my previous posts, if any?

          2. Omar Gutierrez says:

            You’ve just proven my point Mara, which is why Joe M asked what he did. You’d say you know enough to communicate with me and refer to me as Omar because you have a reasonable trust in the data you have taken in and in your past experiences. That’s great. Though you have no empirical proof, you can still know enough about me to want to engage me in debate. Similarly, though you cannot prove at this instant that there is no spider monkey in your car trunk, you can still say, “I know there is no such thing in my trunk.” Why? Because not all knowledge requires the kind of empirical proof you seem to want to require for proving the existence of God or the veracity of a particular religion. Faith, which my dictionary thinks is synonymous with trust, is a trust in my senses and in my personal experience that leads me to a kind of knowledge. The conclusions I reach based on my experiences may be logical or illogical, and you can judge that on a case to case basis. But to say that faith itself is a partisan bias is to fail to understand faith and is to ignore what you yourself just admitted to, namely that it is a kind of knowing. Sincerely Omar-not-a-random-computer-typing-words.

          3. Mara says:

            Omar, if faith is synonymous with trust, then data becomes irrelevant since the difference between faith and trust is data. Since reality is data, you’ve now made reality irrelevant. Since data can only be acquired through experience you’ve also made experience irrelevant. You’ve made yourself a newborn who has no experience with no knowledge of anything. You’ve implied in your response to me that you have indeed had personal experiences. Therefore, if that’s a true statement, then you’re not a newborn but rather a human being living in a world where you believe nothing is provable. Seems like a scary way to live. In any moment, everything you have faith in could simply disappear. BOO!

    2. John says:

      Mara, it might’ve been better if Omar had stated that “Reality is reality, so long as ‘reality’ is defined by objective Truth”. Even ignoring that oversight though, there’s a problem with your assertion that God’s existence can’t be proven. I think that statement in itself requires a healthy degree of “faith” in secular ideas.

      If you wish to see proof of God’s existence, you need look no further than the precise way that your own human body operates. In spite of numerous efforts to demonstrate evolution in the human body or in animals, no scientist has succeeded in developing a complex organism by evolutionary chance from a simple one.
      If we honestly examine various attributes of the universe in this same way, we can’t honestly insist that it all evolved on it’s own; no experiment can demonstrate a lack of an intended result.

      When you have enough of these instances that demonstrate how evolutionary processes can’t be the source of our existence, you have little choice, from a scientific point of view, but to admit that something or someone had to have created or designed it at some point.

      Therefore, whether you wish to see it that way or not, you can’t honestly declare that God doesn’t exist.

      1. Mara says:

        John, I’m not out to prove that God doesn’t exist, which would be impossible in any case because it’s not possible to prove non-existence of anything. I’m simply stating my points about the difference between faith and trust.

        1. John says:

          Mara,
          Though there are occasions when faith and trust are not synonymous, those are comparatively rare and far between. For much of life, trust and faith have little useful difference.

  5. Randall says:

    Thank you Omar. The members of the Democrat Party are the REAL partisans. They will defend with “blind, prejudiced, unreasoned” support: the death of the pre-born, the destruction of the nuclear family, and the right to chomp on contraceptive pills like they were M&M’s. They’ll blindly follow their false Messiah in whatever he proposes. Just look at CINO Nancy Pelosi’s support for Obummercare… “we have to vote for it so we can know what’s in it.” As for the people who claim that viewpoints like yours are driving Catholics away… I say GOOD. They are the Christmas-and-Easter Catholycs who add nothing to our faith community and act as a millstone around our necks. They do not deserve to call themselves Catholic, and if they are driven away, it’s a much needed separation of wheat from the chaff.

    1. go omar! says:

      I agree with you about the democrats! However, I wouldnt be so quick to turn on the christmas and easter catholics. If we are to truly live as catholics in the world, we will be praying that we may see their face on more than two sundays in the year! But Im sure you meant to imply we dont want them speaking out on behalf of OUR religion, when they know so little themselves about our true faith and practices. If that is your case and point, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      1. Omar Gutierrez says:

        We’re in agreement.

    2. Omar Gutierrez says:

      Well, I wouldn’t go so far as you would Randall with regard to “Christmans-and-Easter” Catholics. I’d like to welcome them back and convert them to the faith. I don’t want to see them fly off. The majority of them have left the Church, after all, not because of any one issue but just because they stopped coming. That hardly makes them a “millstone” and it is certainly not the same as Nancy Pelosi who claims to be teaching us about the faith while opening defying it. My point was only that I can’t be blamed for the Catholics who fall away just because I’m standing up for the Church.

  6. Get Real says:

    Somehow, I get the impression that all the writers and most commenters here think that President Obama is more evil than the Yankees. And you keep on saying that one party is FOR abortion. And then have the gall to compare yourself to Martin Luther King Jr. who criticized others for being FOR segregation.

    1. Omar Gutierrez says:

      Not sure what your point here is. It is a verifiable fact that the Democratic Party is for a constitutional right to abortion without any limitations. The Republican Party is not perfect by any stretch of the imgination, but it’s platform and the majority of its candidates are willing to work against legalized abortion by passing laws that limit access to and ease for abortion.

      1. Joe M says:

        Oh please. This is a site dedicated to getting Catholics to vote in the interest of Catholic positions. It just happens that few, if any, Democrats hold positions that aren’t contrary to Catholic views.

        1. Rich says:

          This site is sponsored by the Fidelis, a 501(c)4 political organization. The fact that some chose to “hide” their partisan affiliation makes does not make it less partisan. That the writer thinks people will believe his reasoning, is laughable, except to the people who already think that his is truthful.
          Partisan would not be an insulting charge to anyone who would bravely state their position openly. But when you want to hide it in order to manipulate people into believing that the Church endorses one political thought or actually favors one candidate over another for theological reasons, then cowardice would make any label an insult.
          Joe – your comment shows a lack of understanding of both Democratic and Catholic views. It really proves the earlier comment. CatholcVote is a Republican leaning Website, and Omar tries to frame all of Catholicism as if it would fit neatly into the Republican Platform.
          There is little is Mr Guttierez’ writing that is not “a firm adherent to a party, or a faction, or a cause or against a certain person.” He does well to demonstrate himself as especially “exhibiting blind, prejudiced and unreasoning allegiance.”
          That is what makes his blogs so unremarkable yet misleading. This rant in his blog does little to justify his position or style, but does point out that he is his biggest fan. One would hope that he would prefer the sayings of Jesus instead. But our Lord did not speak for political gain.

          1. Omar Gutierrez says:

            Once again Rich, you’re not actually offering anything helpful here… you’re just name-calling. So here’s an easy test. Given the fact that I’m really just repeating what the bishops have said with regard to the HHS Mandate et al, answer this: is the Mandate a violation of our civil and natural human right to religious liberty or not? If you think it is, then why am I partisan for defending that right even if it does make the President look bad. If it isn’t, why do people of many religions, of both political parties, and every single one of the U.S. Bishops say that it is? Such a broad spectrum of people in public agreement about something – when they are normally at odds – would seem to suggest that this is not partisan. How do you account for this FACT? And, Rich, if you don’t answer this very basic question then I’ll know you don’t really care about discovering the truth, you just like to tear down and call me names.

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