T Nation

The Perils of Mindless Partisanship


#1

I decide to continue the discussion about how mindless partisanship is a real problem and how I’ve never seen the electorate more polarized. It was prompted by @zeb1’s speaking out of two mouths on when lying is bad in a politician (and bad equates to arguing they should be disqualified, impeached, should not get your vote, etc.) and when it is tolerable (yeah, they lie, but they all do it, so that’s not a reason not to vote for them, keep supporting them, etc.).

Using Zeb’s record as an example, lying is bad if it’s a Democrat, but less worrisome if it is a Republican. Standards differ depending on your party affiliation.

But this topic is bigger than one partisan poster’s offerings in an internet forum - and I read somewhere that only 11% of House districts are competitive, so the partisanship is institutionalized.

Can we fix it? Do we need to?


#2

Can it be fixed, sure, slowly and painfully, do we need to, I personally feel that we should hold folks that represent me, you, us as a whole to a high standard. But has the acceptance of politicians as liars and sneaks become so prevalent that it’s just, “it is what it is”? I feel that it is, most folks don’t want to take action unless they see it directly affecting their lives negatively (yes, there can be argument that decisions the president makes affects everyone, but is it really affect your day to day life?) People don’t typically grow up wanting to be a politician, at least not anyone I know or have met, and it seems to attract a certain type of person (some good, some neutrel, a lot with more ambition than sense), and until their actions become more self-less as opposed to self-serving, that stereotype of the skeazy politician isn’t going away.


#3

Great topic, Bolt. One I’ve been circling around over the past couple of weeks.

George Washington’s Farewell Address.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism."


#4

We’ve never been more polarized. Yes, it’s a big problem. In the past, there were at least some regional issues that allowed for more overlap between Dems and Reps. The parties are now ideologically sorted, and unlikely to budge IMO.

There’s very little reason for either party to want to compromise. If you look at Senate roll call votes, we have Elizabeth Warren on the far left. The MOST progressive voter. Just a bit inside of her you’d find Bernie Sanders. Her counterpoint on the far right would be shared by Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee. Look at how powerful and well known those names are. They are nowhere near the middle, but we all know who they are. The TAILS wag the dog here. They do not want to be more moderate, because they will alienate their very powerful flank (right or left flank, respectively.)

The optimistic part of this - I don’t think the general public is so ideologically sorted in that way. We have a lot of moderates and unaffiliated voters in the middle. The crucial question is how do you get the moderate middle MAD and involved. As we know, PASSION rules.


#5

Sorry, I’m on fire here. Another thought.

With the current partisan divide, we essentially flip back and forth with one minority inflicting it’s will on the other. The greater the divide, the more LOSS we feel when our party looses. Example, I’m really upset if Elizabeth Warren is our next president, and EyeDentist is really upset if our next president is Ted Cruz.

The loosing side is ANGRY. Super mad. Passion is REALLY effective. They ramp up steam over the course of 4 or 8 years. Then they FLIP it. Now the winning party can impose their will over the loosers. Process repeats.

Are we willing to keep doing this and imagine that this is what a representational democracy should look like? Meanwhile, the moderate middle is unhappy with BOTH Cruz and Warren. These extremes aren’t representing the majority.


#6

Well said. Of course the internet has only exasperated the hell out of it. A good percentage of online disagreements would lead to fist fights face-to-face. I also think the strong words exchanged online also further push people to the fringes. I’ve found myself arguing positions that I am not even sure I hold just because someone with a different ideological viewpoint was being a dick. lol


#7

Good idea for a thread.

I see partinship as the strong belief that the persons party has some or perhaps most of the answers for the country’s ills. Hence, voting for the party and not necessarily the man or woman. As someone said in another thread it might as well be Bush or any other republican in the Oval office based on how Trump has operated so far. I am sure almost the same thing could have been said for Obama’s eight years vs another left leaning democrat.

Do I always feel vindicated when I vote for “my party”? No, I have been let down several times. But I do know that when the other party is in power I am let down continually.


#8

Well said Tyler!


#10

I don’t know if the divide is worse than civil war times. That was quite an irreconcilable set of differences there.

The 24 hour news cycle, combined with social media inflates the perception of the problems.

To @Powerpuff 's points. I disagree about the middle. The middle very often isn’t involved because they don’t have strong convictions. Getting them involved is tough.

I believe the hyper partisanship can be a force for good here. This election proved that the “establishment” reps and dems don’t reflect their constituents any longer.

We are very close to mutiny and actual, effective 3rd parties. I Don’t know how the buckets would work. But there’s room for a socialist party, a populist party and maybe a conservative party at least.

Other democracies have more than 2 choices. Why not us?


#11

I’m not so sure. I’d say the parties were pretty polarized in 1860. We’ve always been pretty stubborn ideologically, which is good.

This is not to be confused with partisanship for the sake of partisanship. Politics is not routing for a sports team. If people are divided by ideology, then let the debates happen and the free market of ideas decide the winner. But just being a party hack to the bitter end regardless of which ideas are espoused by the parties is somewhat repulsive. I think that is more of what TB was referring to, but I’m not convinced that this mentality is on the rise. There is a certain part of the population that will subscribe to this way of thinking and in my opinion they are only more noticeable now because of social media.

This is why I wouldn’t mind the 17th amendment going away as I discussed in another thread. The States should send whomever they feel best represents their constituency and if their choice fails to do that, send his ass packing.


#12

True, but over the last 4 decades, the parties really have ideologically split. If you look at roll call votes, reps have moved away from the center a bit more than dems, but they’ve both absolutely diverged. I wish I had the bar graphs for this, but they have studied roll call votes from the first congress in 1789 until now, and we’ve NEVER been this divided. Over the last 4 decades, the divide has really become a huge chasm.

For sure, and that’s how third parties begin to emerge. If we wanted to maintain a two party system, you’d need to form some kind of caucus of people in the middle who would decide they’d had enough with the factions. It could be a party, but it could also just be a group or caucus.

I went to a talk recently and that was the solution he was suggesting. Not a “split the baby” kind of ugly nobody’s happy, bad middle ground. His idea went like this.

  1. If you could get a group of people, representative of people across the political spectrum. Let’s say we get 2000 people in our caucus.

  2. We all agree to study a specific policy issue. We have a group of experts who give us a brief on it. Not alternative facts, but really good research, and we all agree to give it 3 hours of our time to try to really understand it.

  3. If you can get these 2000 people to read it and say you get 2/3rds to agree it’s a good idea? Let’s imagine that here in PWI we study some immigration issue and 2/3rd of us say, “Yep. That’s a good idea.” Then you have some traction to go to our elected representatives and say, “Look. We’re a nonpartisan group and we agree that this is a good idea. We want you to act on it.”

  4. If we can’t get 2/3rds agreement on a policy, we don’t move on it. Period. We’ve agreed that we are not interested in this FLIPPING back and forth where we alternate tyrannizing, imposing our will on the other party.


#13

We used to have the more conservative senators from the North, maybe be more liberal than the most liberal senators from the South. There was overlap, which resulted in more of a bipartisan middle. Again, I’m paraphrasing from a talk I attended recently, but apparently we’ve really diverged over the last 4 decades, since the 1970s.

He was making a case that this is really the natural position of a two party system. We’ve had overlap over the years, but he thinks that this idealogical sorting is really the way it is, and that it’s “a hole in the constitution.”

The founding fathers were really concerned about the dangers of faction. I’ve been reading about that, and thinking about this for awhile, but this talk I attended just HIT HOME for me. I think it’s worth a try. Some of us may try to form a caucus like that, to look at specific policy. I’m not interested in this garbage of one extreme after another. I think it has the power to destroy us, and to allow for the rise of a VERY powerful executive branch.


#14

Yes, and this is what I’m most annoyed by. And it makes our politics dumb and hateful.

Here’s a personal example. We all concede that it’s a near-impossibility to agree with a candidate on ten out of ten issues. But I’ll say this, I will most likely vote for a person with whom I agree with on 4 out of 10 issues who is by all accounts a person of integrity and good character over a person with whom I agree with on 6 out of 10 issues but who is a sleazeball, a liar, and a person of low character.

That’s completely true for me, because I firmly believe those other virtues add value to the political process as much (moreso?) as policy positions.

I recognize I am in a distinct minority, but it wasn’t always that way.

It’s not that policy positions don’t matter, sure they do - but the bad side of hyperpartisanship was often mitigated by electing people of good character. Now, all that matters is barking out the party line - independent voices aren’t welcome, water carriers are, and sleaze in pursuit of winning is perfectly ok as long as it produces the partisan endgame.


#15

Which is why we need to protect our system of government. They set out to protect individual freedoms and the Republic by separating power. The more we let judges be activists, Congress punt it’s power, and the executive create law unilaterally, the easier it becomes for partisanship to have an impact.


#16

This is exactly right. The rise of extreme partisanship coincides precisely with our government becoming a de facto parliamentary system and the rise of the uber-president.

When Congress had a bunch of stubborn liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, Congress had enough of an independent spirit to remember that it was a coordinate, not subordinate, branch with the executive.


#17

For sure. See if this doesn’t sound prophetic.

George Washington, Washington’s farewell address

“The common and continual mischief’s [sic] of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion.”

A longer version of that first Washington quote. Bolt, check out the reference to the “absolute power of an individual.”

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”


#18

My parents always taught me “People not party.” I grew up in a politically divided house.


#19

Lol! Yes!

Although I do believe there is a lot of general utility in playing devil’s advocate well…


#20

Can’t like this post enough–this is my personal position as well. Integrity matters. Character matters.


#21

Btw, @Powerpuff, love the Washington references. As impossible as it sounds, I think we still underrate him. The further we get from the Founding, early days, etc., the more we focus on the political philosophers of the era, like Madison and Jefferson (and Hamilton and Jay). Which is fine, but we ignore (at our peril) the tremendous lessons to be learned by the people more known for their actions, like Washington.

Washington wasn’t a treatise writer, but he has valuable and amazingly prescient views on the things the country would face.