Political infighting gets in the way of real policy debates

One of the best religious jokes I’ve come across is lengthy, but pretty good.

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

A similar scene is playing out in Portland politics, stemming from the ongoing national strife over immigration. President Donald Trump declared that he would send asylum seekers arriving at the southern border to so-called “sanctuary cities.” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling replied, “bring them on.

If that was all that happened, it would be nothing more than two politicians jawing. However, nonprofits in Texas have started buying asylum seekers bus tickets to Portland. The city’s social service agencies are already overburdened. Adding more needy families, unable to work for themselves, is likely to exacerbate the problem.

Portland City Hall. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

This led to the unusual happening where the director of human resources for the city publicly called out Strimling for his comments. “When you say ‘bring them on,’ it’s bringing them to a place that is overcrowded and they’re on mats. You’re putting them in a terrible position. Please think about what you’re asking of our staff,” she implored.

Strimling replied that he believed he was simply voicing what he believed was the will of the people.

In both cases, these disputes are occurring between Democrats and self-described progressives. Theoretically, they are political allies.

But the greatest venom in politics is often saved for those of a like-mind when minor deviations occur. Republicans have done it for years, placing the perfect — whatever that is — ahead of the good. Democrats are catching up, with firebrands like US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knocking off longstanding liberals in primaries. And Portland’s unanimously left-leaning city council, together with left-wing activist groups, engaging in internecine warfare.

While those on the right may wish to take some solace in the public squabbles of the opposition party, it actually bodes poorly for the health of the body politic.

Use immigration as an example. There are some very real, base philosophical disagreements on how our entry system should work. There are practical questions around resourcing and standards on what exactly should qualify for “asylum.” The war of ideas needs to be waged.

However, the scorched earth approach burns away goodwill preventing even small, reasonable progress. For example, part of the reason Portland is overburdened with asylum seekers is because it is one of very few — if not the only — city in the country that provides a taxpayer-supported benefit system. Yet the reason they need government benefits is because federal law prohibits asylum seekers from working.

It’s a bad policy, but it gets lost among the long knives and political posturing over big issues. Maybe, instead of spending their energy fighting one another, those on the left charged with the leadership of our largest city and our state can find common cause to push Washington to let asylum seekers access the best welfare program in the world: a job.

After all, the system we have now is a pretty bad joke.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.