Other-Footed Shoe

partisanship and partisan politics

Butting his head against a wall and off-balance with only one shoe. That pretty much sums up partisan politics.

One of the people I’d like to meet is former NBA star Charles Barkley. I’m not much of a hoops fan, I just think he’s hilarious.

Barkley’s mother was single for most of his childhood, and times were tough.  After he was successful, at one point his mother was chiding him about voting for George H.W. Bush, pointing out that Bush was for rich people.

“Mom,” Barkley replied in a partisan rejoinder, “I am rich.”

During the Gulf Coast oil boom of the 1970’s, a joke emerged here in south Louisiana:
   Q:  When a Cajun becomes rich, what are the first two things he changes?
   A:  His car and his political affiliation.

Indeed, the Cajuns were Democratic partisans for years, although conservative on many issues (the southern conservative Democrats hung Blue Dog artwork in their offices, painted by Cajun artist George Rodrigue). There are even family ties to the Kennedys.  After decades of growth and prosperity, today the Cajuns are strongly Republican:  Democrat Kathleen Blanco, despite being a Lafayette resident, didn’t carry her home parish when she was elected governor.

Right now however, the oil industry is down.  If that continues for a few years, it will be interesting to see if the voter rolls shift very much.

Because changing partisan identification can work both ways.  In 1979, Chrysler needed a bailout to stay afloat, and the Carter administration helped CEO Lee Iacocca get it.  Iacocca was a life-long Republican, but realized that he wouldn’t have gotten that support from a Republican administration.  So he backed Democrats in several subsequent presidential elections.

It didn’t end there, however.  Iacocca continued to change his partisan identification, and in 2000 he switched back to the Republicans and endorsed George W. Bush.  So really, he’s bipartisan.

Partisans of all colors, of course, find Iacocca’s behavior anathema.  I think being able to change one’s mind is critical, and to change positions is good strategy.  Sometimes you’re risk averse, others risk prone.

These examples illustrate the problem with partisan extremists, both ends of the spectrum disagree about the details, but their approach to progress, and knowledge, are identical.  They put ideology above people, and they put partisanship above pragmatism and progress.  This is very much the problem we have seen between modern science and spirituality: science seeks happiness by changing the world to fit our expectations, whereas spirituality seeks to change our expectations to fit the world.

The point of today’s post is that a ‘scientific’ mindset can give us more than supercomputers and ballpoint pens:  our desire to change the world too often includes dogmatism and self-service.  In such a case we become less interested, or even disinterested, in real solutions.  Why should ‘ideological purity’ be essential to politics?

If everyone is thinking the same way, who’s thinking?

I am beginning to think I should have that quote carved on my tombstone.[1]Actually, I want my tombstone to read, “We do not use theory to test the facts.” But I may change my mind. Either way, both epitaphs fit the theme here.  The current fashion is that we should all think one way, and we should never put the shoe on the other foot.  Think about it, who only wears one shoe?  If I can extend the metaphor, we need two feet to walk:  One left.  One right.

And we should learn not just to walk and progress, but to dance.

Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  But there is a danger to entertaining other thoughts, to putting the shoe on the other foot.

We might like it.  We might begin to think for ourselves.

On those occasions we are limited to one shoe and two feet – as we often are inside the voting booth – then perhaps we should adopt a shoe that we can easily switch back and forth.  Perhaps we need a good, flexible, ambidextrous shoe.

And a mentality to match.

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Picture:  The Dutch Proverbs by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.  This painting illustrates two proverbes, ‘One foot shod, the other bare,’ (i.e., to be imbalanced) and ‘To bang one’s head against a wall.’ Courtesy Wikimedia.org.


1 Actually, I want my tombstone to read, “We do not use theory to test the facts.” But I may change my mind. Either way, both epitaphs fit the theme here.


  1. Anne

    I really enjoyed this, too. These thoughts are close to mine. I hate to even declare a party since I hold deeply seated beliefs that are tenets of both sides. I read Iacocca’s biography, by the way, compliments of my father. I remember being impressed by his drive and ability to succeed. I don’t remember any ethical problems, but I would need to read it again in light of my experience (age!) now. Nice work, Joe! I’ll share when I get home. I don’t facebook at work.

  2. Durl

    Back when Ronald Reagan was President, the Speaker of the House was Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill. Reagan was a Republican, and O’Neill was a Democrat. They disagreed on almost everything. However, they both were willing to compromise to make progress for our country.

    Politics has become so polarized, that compromise is viewed as a weakness and not a strength. This is most certainly the wrong answer for our country.

    P.S. I thought your tombstone might read “I can trisect an angle, but no one believes me.”

    • Bookscrounger

      I can’t trisect the angle, dangit, but I had a really elegant approach one time. Sometimes I still pull it out and reconsider it.

      Better than Reagan/O’Neill — two Irishmen with similar personalities — was Ted Kennedy/Orin Hatch. Once when the two were going at it over some bill, Hatch gave Kennedy the business: “Ted Kennedy is my friend. I love Ted Kennedy.

      “I love Ted Kennedy as few in this Chamber do… ”

      Brought the house down, Ted gave him a big bearhug.

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