2-28-89 . . . The big political news has to do with President [George Herbert Walker] Bush’s choice for Secretary of Defense, former Texas Senator John Tower. Nearly every other Bush cabinet nomination sailed through the Senate, but this one has been stalled. The problem? First, Tower has admitted to having a drinking problem, though he denies that he is or ever was an alcoholic. Second, he has a reputation as a philanderer, and has admitted to being unfaithful to his former wife. Third, and this is perhaps most serious, he has cozied up to defense contractors since he left the Senate, and many people think that that constitutes a conflict of interest. So things do not look good for him. Bush vows to stand behind his nominee, and Tower has given no indication that he’ll withdraw his nomination, even though the Senate Armed Services Committee just voted to reject the nomination. The matter now goes to the floor of the Senate. It’s expected to be a close vote. If the vote is along party lines, Tower, a Republican, will be defeated, because there are fifty-five Democratic senators and only forty-five Republicans.
Here’s what I find curious. Of the twenty members of the Armed Services Committee, eleven (fifty-five percent) are Democrats. They are led by Sam Nunn of Georgia, who chairs the committee. All eleven Democrats voted to reject the Tower nomination. All nine Republicans voted to affirm the nomination. This has prompted many Republicans to accuse the Democrats of partisanship. Now wait a minute. Why are the Republicans not guilty of partisanship, since all nine of them voted as their president wishes? It seems to me that if anyone is being partisan, then everyone is. Then again, it depends on what we mean by “partisan”. Here’s my analysis. S is partisan if and only if there are sufficient nonpolitical reasons for doing D, but S does not do D because not doing D is the position of S’s party. In other words, S hews the party line and does not consider the matter on its merits. Let me make two suppositions and show what follows. First, suppose that there are sufficient nonpolitical reasons for voting for Tower. (He’s the best candidate for the job, let’s say.) Then the Democrats are being partisan. Second, suppose that there are insufficient nonpolitical reasons for voting for Tower. Then the Republicans are being partisan. The point is that we cannot determine who, if anyone, is being partisan until we determine whether there are good nonpolitical reasons for voting for Tower! That should be our focus—not whether someone is being partisan.