Monday, January 10, 2005

Gang Ethics and US Politics

A main feature of hyperpartisanship or gang ethics is complete inability to see things from the other person's point of view. In the mind of a gang member, there is nothing that his gang has ever done bad, except to respond forcefully to the evil actions of the other side. This complete absence of self-criticism makes each round of retaliation more deadly than the last. Compromise or restraint begins to seem like betrayal to one's own side.

Well Democrats and Republicans haven't gotten to the point of drive-by shootings, but it does seem to me that politics in the US has sunk to a low that makes me wonder whether compromise and dialogue are even possible, anymore. Mutual mistrust so poisons the air that absolutely every issue threatens to become a partisan battle.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe, but let's look at a couple of examples.
[Click permalink to read more...]
Here's a supposedly reasonable conservative blogger writing about the dispute over votes in Ohio: John Cole of "Balloon Juice"

Most reasonable Democrats (and this includes James Carville, Paul Begala, and Michael Moore, so perhaps I am stretching the meaning of the word reasonable) acknowledge that Bush won the 2004 election fair and square. However, the wingnuts will have their say to bring up all the nonsensical charges that there was voter fraud in the 2004 election...

When they Democrats tried to steal Florida in 2000, the result was a large swing towards the GOP...

Notice that John calls Democrats "wingnuts" for raising the possibility that there might have been voter fraud in Ohio in 2004. Yet, in the same post, he makes the charge that Democrats tried to "steal Florida" in 2000. Like a gang member who can only see the wrongs done to his own side, John sees Democratic charges of possible Republican wrongdoing as evidence of paranoia. But on the other hand, he thinks nothing of charging Democrats with attempting to steal an election.

Other examples are the complaints made by Republicans against Democrats for blocking judicial nominees. Of course, when Clinton was President, the Republicans did all they could to block his nominees. But somehow, Republicans only view it as reprehensible when Democrats use all tools at their disposal.

There are other examples that I'm too lazy to look up right now. But the upshot is that Republican routinely decry in Democrats behavior that they have no problem with when Republicans do it. You could call it hypocrisy, but to me it seems worse than that. It seems like gang ethics, where the only virtue is loyalty to one's own side.


Blogger Kyle McCullough said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Daryl McCullough said...

Whoops! I was wondering what that little trash can icon did. Here's Kyle's comment:

A recent NPR report talked about how partisan loyalty makes Liberals and Conservatives see the same events completely differently. Someone did a study of this recently. In it, they presented test subjects with varying amounts of evidence that Donald Rumsfeld had committed a crime. Then they asked whether a special prosecutor should be appointed. Basically, conservatives said no, and liberals said yes--regardless of how much, or how little, evidence they were presented. I have some serious qualms with the study, but I think the basic point is correct.

While both liberals and conservatives are guilty of this, I do think that liberals' approach to morality, which you discussed earlier, tends to make us a bit less likely to fall prey to this sort of gang mentality. My approach to most to most moral dilemmas is to essentially apply The Golden Rule, which means to try to put myself in the other guy's shoes. Conservatives do not, as a rule, train themselves to do this. I remember discussing Clinton with a conservative friend. I tried to get him to give the Lewinski matter some perspective by comparing Clinton's lies to those told by Reagan and Bush regarding Iran-Contra. He didn't want to do that, and instead wanted me to look at just Clinton and not be "distracted" by those other matters.

His opinion was that if a person does a bad thing you don't let them off by saying, "this other person did something just as bad, or even worse." What I do not think he ever realized is that I judge Clinton *more* harshly than I otherwise would, by reminding myself how hard I was on Reagan and Bush when they lied. And I force myself to be more forgiving of Reagan and Bush by reminding myself that Clinton lied too--albeit about a much less serious matter.

11:03 AM  
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