My brother John is in graduate school for pharmacy down in Kingsville. We had a catch-up over Thanksgiving. He asked me what I think of Ron Paul, who is once again winning hearts and some minds with his quixotic presidential campaign.
Thinking about health policy
I asked him what HE thinks of Ron Paul. He said that he thinks Paul makes a lot of sense on some issues, but not on others. He was intrigued by Paul's argument that professional licensing requirements have gotten somewhat out of hand, although there are some tasks that clearly need licensing--dispensing medication was an example that came up, as was plastic surgery. With regard to health insurance, however, he thinks Paul is way out of line to suggest that if you don't have insurance you shouldn't get treatment. That's the attitude of someone who's never been sick, said John, or had an accident or an emergency. In other words, from a vaguely libertarian business view to an apparent interest in nationalised health care, within the span of two sentences.

In my experience, people who don't blur party lines this way are rarer than those who do. This creates a perverse incentive for both parties to foment suspicion and mutual antipathy. If your supporters part ways over certain issues, one way to rein them in is to make partisan identification itself an issue. This helps lock them in for future election cycles. It also may help win support for your policies: come for the abortion rights, stay for the quantitative easing, or what have you.

The Manichean tendency that results may be good strategy, but it's certainly bad governance. There are some people who benefit from partisan polarization--politicians, advocates, opinion journalists, people who need a scapegoat--but they are the minority. The best way to break up this game, I think, is to refuse to play: don't identify yourself as partisan unless you have a very pertinent reason (such as, you're running for office.) Really, why should you?

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