Sam Waltz: Paul Begala on hyper-partisanship in America

By Sam Waltz

It’s the devolution of partisan politics into a death sport that uniquely characterizes today’s hyper-partisan world, political commentator and consultant Paul Begala told a crowd of 150 clients and friends on April 23 in a program presented by Murray Sawyer’s Westover Capital Advisors at the Wilmington Country Club.

“The Gallup Polls over the last 60 years have tracked attitudes of Americans about important fundamental issues, going back to 1960 when JFK was elected,” Begala said. “A half-century ago, Americans were telling Gallup that they would not want to have a child of theirs marry outside their race, or marry outside their religion.

“Today, while attitudes about marrying outside race or religion have almost completely relaxed, respondents’ focus has shifted to core political beliefs,” Begala added. “Since JFK was president, the number of Americans saying they would not want a child to marry outside the family’s political beliefs has climbed from 4% to 45%, just an incredible increase.

“Heck, my wife and I have four boys, and I’m happy if they just stay within the species,” Begala added to laughs from the room.

In the program called “Through the Looking Glass,” Sawyer, a well-known Delaware adviser and wealth manager, told the audience that he pulled together the program to help friends get a richer, deeper contextual understanding of the issues in order to enlighten their own investment, professional, business and personal decisionmaking.

“We’ve played a role in important every day decisions of our clients for years, and we see this as part of how we want to help our clients be smart about what they do,” he said.

Begala, 57, a native Texan and a former adviser to President Clinton during his 1992 campaign and into Clinton’s White House years, has since gone on to senior adviser to a generation of Democrats, as well as a TV pundit.

In a remarkably non-partisan address, he stressed that hyper-partisanship that has fundamentally changed American dialogue.

“In political discourse, we used to say, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong!’ Instead, today, now, we say, ‘I’m good and you’re evil!’”

Every issue has become “a moral issue,” he said. “Politics is about compromise. It’s college football that’s supposed to be a binary conflict, a win-lose, a winner take all!”

Given that America is so evenly divided, the volatility has emerged dramatically into who has control of government. “In the last 10 elections, from the year 2000 to 2018, the House, the Senate or the White House has flipped party control eight times,” Begala noted. “In the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, in the 10 elections from the year 1960 to 1978, the House, Senate and White House flipped only three times, in what arguably was America’s most volatile time.”

Wading into that hyper-partisanship, he acknowledged the shortcomings of the Democrats in 2016, anchored in Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” comment about people who supported Republicans, including then-candidate Donald Trump.

“The Democrats were offering them nothing, even going back to President Obama’s campaign comment about ‘clinging to their guns, Bibles and religion,’ ” he said. “Reciprocity runs very deep in the human soul. If someone hates you, the chances are you will hate them,” and the Democrats came to be seen as hating the white working class, regarding many as “racists,” Begala added.

Those same people then looked for “a wrecking ball,” Begala said, to tear down what the Democrats had created under Obama. “With 17 candidates, with 242 years of elected political experience, their voters sorted through it, and they found the only guy with no experience, a wrecking ball.”

“That same thing may be happening right now in the Democrat Party,” observed Begala.

“In 2018, the Democrat Party decided to move to the middle. They got smart, and they contested and won the winnable elections in swing districts. We have to run moderate candidates with moderate backgrounds, with military and intelligence backgrounds. Not one candidate in a swing district ran an anti-Donald Trump ad.”

“Now, for 2020, they’re tossing aside that strategy,” Begala said. “I think it’s a loser’s bet. If you want to fire the president, give them the remedy, not the replica.”

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