What does nonpartisanship mean?
With impeachment proceedings beginning in Washington, and presidential primaries only weeks away, Americans are sure to engage in a lot of partisan bickering in the days ahead.
That got me thinking about an issue that isn’t often addressed very well in Nebraska.
Many people misunderstand the difference between engaging in partisanship and holding differences of opinion on policy issues.
For example, the Platte Institute, along with every 501(c)(3) nonprofit I’m aware of, are nonpartisan organizations. That means we don’t endorse parties or candidates.
But just like our nonpartisan Nebraska state senators, that doesn’t mean we give up our values and convictions. It means we advance those principles without regard for anyone’s political fortunes.
Remember, political parties are mainly vehicles for winning elections. And we all know that politicians are often willing to compromise their stated beliefs if it’s in their political interest.
We need institutions outside the party system to inspire people based on ideas and to hold leaders accountable. There are already plenty of others who will serve as cheerleaders for personalities and the spectator sport of politics.
But there’s another dimension to this issue. One reason I’ve never made a big deal about the Platte Institute being nonpartisan is that I feel organizations sometimes use the phrase “nonpartisan” to imply to the unfamiliar that there is an air of complete objectivity to their conclusions; that there simply cannot be another way to look at an issue.
To me, this is a deceptive practice. Even if we accept common facts, people can fundamentally disagree on what should be done in response to those facts based on many subjective values. When someone makes a recommendation about how government should run, they are making a value judgment whether they reveal that thought process to you or not.
Personally, I haven’t found political party to be a reliable indicator of whether an elected official is supportive of what we’re working on at the Platte Institute. It really depends on the issue.
To me, nonpartisanship is about policymaking becoming a bigger team sport than the narrow interests our political parties allow. It’s about placing a higher value on delivering a win for society in the long term, rather than the short term wins politicians enjoy every two or four years.