The 2010 midterm elections have ended, so the dance begins. President Barack Obama seeks to lead, but presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner is not about to follow. Majority Leader Harry Reid can only call the tunes for the Senate, as ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to effectively sit it out.

The president has initiated a series of “bi-partisan” meetings at the White House with Democratic and Republican leaders beginning November 18. Does anybody think this will produce anything of substance?

Where is the positive agenda to serve the well-being of the nation? As King Solomon once said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” What are the ground rules for productive political discourse?

There are five levels in which the “partisan” is employed, and where we see a contrast between reality and unreality.

First is the reality that we are all partisans. This should be a delightful admission, for we all care about issues that affect the common social order. If we pretend otherwise, we deceive ourselves.
Second is the unreality of being non-partisan. To be non-partisan means to have no opinions, and that means to be non-human.

Third is the unreality of being bi-partisan. This is a momentary tactic, not a true identity. To be bi-partisan means the non-health of trying to believe simultaneously in opposing partisan opinions, a/k/a “double-mindedness.”

Fourth is the unreality of being post-partisan. This is language used by Barack Obama in his 2008 campaign. By definition, the post-partisan follows the partisan, and means that partisan debate is over. But how can partisan debate end before the end of history? How can the partisan be over until we all agree, and how does that agreement come to pass?

Fifth is the reality of being pre-partisan. This means the achievement of honest ground rules that set the table for open and patient partisan debates over public policy. It is where all partisans know they will be fully heard. It precedes and celebrates our freedom to admit how partisan we are, and thus, makes possible true checks and balances necessary for a healthy political life.

In other words, how confident are each of us in the partisan positions we advocate? If we are confident, then we are free to be pre-partisan and listen well to opposing partisans, confident that truth will readily rise to the top. Those who are not free to be pre-partisan are not interested in truth or reality. Honest partisans love the pre-partisan; dishonest partisans fear it.

Rev. John C. Rankin is president of the Theological Education Institute (TEI) in West Simsbury, Connecticut. His portal website is www.johnrankin.org.