Bi-Partisanship; or, the Fine Art of Spear Throwing

Ah, ain't language grand! Especially how it evolves from something correct into something incorrect. Like the word "impact" slowly becoming a verb or the word "swagger" becoming something macho when, in fact, it's more like a girly thing. You know, swagger dresses of the 60s. Or handbags. The latest of these linguistic malcontents is the hyphenated word "bi-partisan." Can't listen to a political talk show these days, either from the "left" or the "right" without someone using the word once, twice, even multiple times. Bi-partisan. If one were to "parse" the word (yet another one of those polito-generative words made famous in the Clinton years, but has since gone into oral disfavor) one could learn a lot about it.

For example, we all know that "bi" comes from the Latin prefix meaning "two." So, we all know what bi-sexual means or bi-coastal or bi-lingual. Simply stated, taking part in or having knowledge of two things and not one. To that end, one might assume that being bi-partisan would mean taking part both as a Democrat and a Republican (obviously, Independents can't work in a bi-partisan manner since, well, there are no Dependents). In other words, the word has been used ad nauseum as meaning a way for political parties to "come together." Perhaps, the word "compromise" comes to mind. Mr. Rogers might have said something like "to play together nicely." And even though every political pundit from LA to DC believes that the parties are not acting in a reasonable bi-partisan fashion they are, in fact, being bi-partisan. But how can that be?

Well, the word "partisan" comes from the French partizane and from the Italian dialectal (arma) partisana, which actually means "weapon." If one retreats to its early use in the English language, then we find that as a noun partisan appears as early as the 16th century as the OED reads: "An adherent or proponent of a party, cause, person, etc.; esp. a devoted or zealous supporter; in early use esp. such a person used as a bodyguard. Also with unfavorable connotation: an unreasoning, prejudiced, or blindly fanatical adherent." As an adjective it was used in the manner "Of, composed of, or relating to military partisans; of or relating to irregular or guerrilla warfare." I guess to that extent both El Ché and Mitch McConnell would have a lot in common with bi-partisans.

Be that as it may, today, a more facile definition might state a partisan as someone who is "a fervent, sometimes militant, supporter or proponent of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea." Now we're getting close to what the word actually means and why both parties are truly acting in a bi-partisan fashion. So, what we really have here are two parties using weapons against each other. The Democrat (as opposed to democratic which means something else) weapon is the stimulus package, the Republican weapon is the "no" vote.

Of the economic stimulus package that no Republican in the House voted for, John McCain went on record as saying: "This bill was not bipartisan. It is incredibly expensive. It has hundreds of billions of dollars in projects which will not yield in jobs." Besides the fact that very few US Senators in the history of the United States have been prescient, what both parties are talking about is precisely bi-partisanship. Each of them, in effect, is throwing spears at each other and in that sense they are acting in a true bi-partisan fashion. They each recognize the others' position as being a proponent of a party, cause, faction, person, or, in this case, bill and have no intention of acting in a non-partisan manner (never have) which is really the word we should be using. It basically comes down to the fact that both parties control their arsenal of weapons, that they are fully cognizant of the weapons the other party controls and that they constantly use them on each other as a way to propagate their own ideologies.

Clearly, the recent chaos over health care couldn't be more bi-partisan not only in terms of political parties, but of ideological agendae. Lines of demarcation are poignantly planned with neo-Cons, Republicrats, Fox News and the always bi-partisan Rush Limbaugh establishing themselves as representatives of truth, justice and the American Way.

In that sense, they have always been and are truly acting in a bi-partisan fashion which, alas, is not what Mr. Rogers would have advocated.