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"Essay by actor/writer Joseph C. Phillips - U-N-I-T-Y Part 1"

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jcphillips (12k image)In his farewell address, George Washington warns of being consumed by the fire of partisanship: "…the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."

A woman emailed me recently and seemed to be channeling the first president. "Do you ever find fault with anything the Republican Party does or is everything the fault of the Democrats?" I swallowed her words. Am I guilty as charged or has the writer mistaken ideology for partisanship? The true partisan, it seems to me, is he who places politics above values.

I admit to some very definite beliefs, chief among them a belief in God as the author of men's rights and the charge of government to secure those rights. I advocate on certain issues because they reflect my values and the vision I have of where the nation should be and how it ought to get there. Quite naturally I find myself more in agreement with the political party that I believe shares that vision and those values. In this, I imagine, I am not very different from millions of other Americans.

But shouldn't we be more open-minded, she wondered. I consider myself to be very open-minded, but as a friend recently said to me, "Some people will tell you 1 plus 1 equals 2. Others will declare that 1 plus 1 equals 3. At some point you must decide whether or not you believe in math." I am open to many points of view, however, I also believe in math.

Washington's fear was not ideology but that factions would lead to politics as a means of party domination, distracting government from its job of securing the safety and happiness of the citizenry. In fact, it is the exploration of core beliefs that is far too often neglected in political discourse. We allow labels to tell the complete story of what we stand for. On this point I plead guilty. Labels, however, are what stop discourse, what hinders the work of government. We debate process without ever knowing what we stand for and wonder why we don't seem to be communicating.

Another reader wrote to share with me that he doesn't agree with my views. I found the statement fascinating. (Just as I am always fascinated by the ugly emails I occasionally receive challenging my racial pride.) The reader may disagree with my party affiliation, but does he really disagree with my views? Probably not. For instance, I believe in extending the American ideal of freedom and opportunity into every corner of every community in this nation. I believe there is no monopoly on brainpower and that black students can compete academically with any other students. I believe strong marriages create strong communities and I believe in heroes because I think they inspire us during dark times.

These beliefs are not the sole possession of a political party. They are the values I hold dear and the foundation of my political activism. They also happen to be values shared by the woman who originally accused me of partisanship. After the exchange of a few emails we discovered we had something in common: A shared view of the primacy of God and a desire for every citizen to enjoy the bounty that is America.

During his farewell address, Washington stressed it is, "The unity of government that makes us one people" and safeguards the liberty we hold so dear. Common ground provides the firm footing necessary to govern our Republic.

We may be Republicans and Democrats but what is more important is what we believe in.

U-N-I-T-Y Part 2
U-N-I-T-Y Part 3: Partisanship and Black Authenticity

Joseph C. Phillips: (Visit
Phillips is an actor and writer living in Hollywood, California. He is perhaps best known as one of the stars of The Cosby Show. He was also a three-time NAACP award nominee for his role as attorney Justus Ward on the daytime drama General Hospital and was the mayor on The District. Mr. Phillips has had essays published in Essence magazine, USA today and the College Digest among others.

Copyright © 2005 JCP Productions. All rights reserved.

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