Essentially, he pointed out that partisanship is not in and of itself a bad thing. In a democracy, it's necessary. Politicians have to disagree, sometimes fiercely, because Americans disagree. As the Hammer says pretty accurately, "You show me a nation without partisanship, and I’ll show you a tyranny."
And a big part of healthy partisanship is building strong political parties. To a certain extent, the Phoenix-like rise of Congressional Republicans in 1994 represents that.
Now, does that excuse turning K Street into a wing of the Republican party, rather than an (already dirty) way for businesses to represent their interests in Washington DC? Or running Congress in such a way as to almost completely exclude Democrats from all proceses up until the final vote? Leading the fight to break national precedent by redistricting in Texas in an off-year purely for partisan advantage?
Of course not. But still, I found much to agree with in the following words, minus the petty swipes against Democrats/liberals:
In preparing for today, I found that it is customary in speeches such as these to reminisce about the "good old days" of political harmony and across-the-aisle camaraderie, and to lament the bitter, divisive partisan rancor that supposedly now weakens our democracy.
I can’t do that. Because partisanship, Mr. Speaker — properly understood — is not a symptom of a democracy’s weakness, but of its health and strength — especially from the perspective of a political conservative.
Liberalism, after all, whatever you may think of its merits, is a political philosophy — and a proud one with a great tradition in this country — with a voracious appetite for growth. In any time or place, on any issue, what does liberalism ever seek, Mr. Speaker? "More." More government, more taxation, more control over people’s lives and decisions and wallets.
If conservatives don’t stand up to liberalism, no one will! And for a long time around here… almost no one did.
Indeed, the common lament over the rise in political partisanship is often nothing more than a veiled complaint instead about the rise of political conservatism. I should add here that I do not begrudge liberals their nostalgia for the days of a timid, docile, and permanent Republican minority. If we Republicans had ever enjoyed the same luxury over the last twelve years… Heck, I’d be nostalgic, too!
Had liberals not fought us tooth and nail over tax cuts and budget cuts and energy and Iraq and partial-birth abortion, those of us on this side of the aisle can only imagine all the additional things we could have accomplished. But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, they didn’t agree with us.
So — to their credit — they stood up to us. They argued with us. And they did so honorably, on behalf of more than 100 million people, just like we did against President Clinton, and they did against President Reagan.
The point is: we disagree. On first principles, Mr. Speaker, we disagree. And so we debate — often loudly, and often in vain — to convince our opponents and the American people of our point of view. We debate here on the House floor. We debate in committees. We debate on television, and on radio, and on the Internet, and in the newspapers. And then every two years, we have a HUGE debate… and then in November we see who won.
That is not rancor.
That is democracy!
You show me a nation without partisanship, and I’ll show you a tyranny.
For all its faults, it is partisanship — based on core principles — that clarifies our debates, that prevents one party from straying too far from the mainstream, and that constantly refreshes our politics with new ideas and new leaders.
Indeed, whatever role partisanship may have played in my own retirement today — or in the unfriendliness heaped upon other leaders in other times, Republican and Democrat, however unjust — all we can say is that partisanship is the worst means of settling fundamental political differences… except for all the others.
Now, politics demands compromise, Mr. Speaker, and even the most partisan among us have to understand that. But we must never forget that compromise and bipartisanship are means, not ends, and are properly employed only in the service of higher principles.
It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first-principle. For true statesmen, Mr. Speaker, are not defined by what they compromise, but what they don’t.
OK I can't end on too positive a note. Tom Delay's a power hungry, corrupt hack whose career is a testament to un-conservative values. There, now I feel better.