Transpartisan Politics and Political Relativism

In a discussion posted at Transpartisan Alliance centering on the question as to whether the transpartisan movement may be considered a third party, a hypothetical scenario is posed in which a new party is formed not on the basis of a specific platform or policy preferences, but rather on political dialogue as such: "We never took any positions on issues. We just sponsored dialogues and said that we’d create dozens more if we were elected. We pulled together one major citizen dialogue after another." This is certainly an intriguing idea, and, as the saying goes, it may be so crazy it just might work. Until coming across this post, I had never heard of the group. The blog is run by Joseph McCormick, cofounder of Reuniting America, which organizes events aimed at bringing together activists and ordinary citizens from across the political spectrum to foster dialogue on issues of national concern in order to overcome the polarizing effects of our national politics. The organization defines 'transpartisanship' over and against both bipartisan and non-partisan perspectives:
transpartisanship acknowledges the validity of truths across a range of political perspectives and seeks to synthesize them into an inclusive, pragmatic container beyond typical political dualities. In practice, transpartisan solutions emerge out of a new kind of public conversation that moves beyond polarization by applying proven methods of facilitated dialogue, deliberation and conflict resolution.
This notion of transpartisanship is thus based, in part, on a form of radical relativism. Further on, we read: "All points of view are equally valuable - Every belief or view can be important in reaching collaborative decisions." One wonders how this stance differs from practical non-partisanship. But, in any case, is not such a view completely untenable? Because some points of view are more pernicious than others, not all points of view are equally valuable.

Yet, the forms of political polarization wrought by the two-party system have led many to the point of exasperation, obscuring this simple truth. Imploring the GOP to take up the mantle of loyal opposition, Fred Abraham writes at the WCF Courier: "Most political differences center on contrasting values, and there never is a right or wrong where values are concerned." While political differences do often stem from contrasting values, arguably, there is always a right and wrong where values are concerned, if only because values constitute our sense of right and wrong as such. Political antagonisms based on contrasting values are thus irreducible. Are 'transpartisan' outcomes possible on the basis of such difference?


Samuel Wilson said...

Any "transpartisan" venture demands a consensus on priorities. The more effective ventures may be those that assign low priority to the least reconcilable "values" issues while stressing more quantitative concerns for which concrete compromises are possible.

Michael said...

I'm out of my depth intellectually, but the notion of transpartisanship is an intriguing one. I certainly can't see it operating effectively in the context of the duopoly, if at all. It seems to me to be an attempt to describe a mindset necessary for the successful operation of a third party but appealing as it sounds, it's hard for me to imagine it in practice, though I may personally have even espoused it without knowing it.

I found your argument regarding contrasting values of right and wrong to be compelling. I find my own beliefs and decision-making overwhelmingly being dictated by that simple criteria rather than what the party philosophy tells me is right and wrong, which I suppose is why I find myself following the path I'm on "politically."

Still, transpartisanship captures an essence worth further thought. (I told you I was out of my depth.)

d.eris said...

The prioritizing of issues would be an effective way of negotiating such impasses, it's a good solution, and right in line with the group's dialogical method.

Michael, you raise a good point on the function of transpartisanship in the context of the duopoly. (Don't sell yourself short ;-) To be transpartisan, it would seem any dialogue would necessarily have to include voices from beyond the duopoly frame. Otherwise it would just devolve into another version of the bi-partisan charade.

As a side note, McCormick responded to my question regarding the difference between transpartisanship and nonpartisanship in a twitter post, writing: "Nonpartisan = denial, avoidance. Transpartisan = honoring all views as valid w/o "relativistic," good/bad judgment." I'm not sure that addresses the relativity question. Perhaps he will elaborate at some point. It'd be an interesting discussion.