Avoiding the Traps of Compulsive Partisanship and Compulsive Non-Partisanship

© Josh Sager – August 2013 


In any country where parties are a significant factor in the political landscape, partisanship becomes a very relevant factor in analyzing political results. During recent years, the United States has had an extremely polarized partisan environment, both on the federal and state levels.

Unfortunately, when discussing partisanship, people often find themselves drifting into the two extremes of compulsive partisanship—the reflexive agreement or disagreement with a partisan side—or compulsive non-partisanship—the reflexive labeling of everything as equal between the parties. In order to properly cover and discuss political matters, we need to avoid both extremes and remain rooted firmly in the middle-ground of objective, non-partisan, fact.


Compulsive Partisanship

Compulsive partisans care less about ideas and policies than they do about politics and the sports-team dynamic of political debate. Rather than stand behind principles and suggest solutions to problems, compulsive partisans base their opinions on the party line of their “team.” Such partisans will support allied party members and oppose members of the opposing party, regardless of the actually policy agendas of the involved politicians, based purely upon partisan affiliation.

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Excessive partisanship is (ironically) a bipartisan issue, and both Democrats and Republicans have fallen prey to compulsive partisanship in recent years. Here are two clear examples of such compulsive partisanship:

Democrats who decried the wars and expansions of the intelligence state during Bush, yet who are perfectly fine with Obama’s continuation and expansion of the same policies, are compulsive partisans. Such Democrats took a principled stand against unconstitutional and harmful policies, but stopped the moment that Obama—who is their ally—got back into control.


Republicans who reflexively block everything that Democrats suggest, regardless of the merits of the policy or even whether they previously supported it (ex. many Republicans were pushing for the individual healthcare mandate until the moment that Obama proposed it), are compulsive partisans. Compulsively partisan Republicans are endemic to the current GOP—in fact, the GOP leaders got together on the night of Obama’s inauguration and plotted to obstruct everything that Obama suggested, regardless of how reasonable it is—and have been the primary cause of the legislative malaise to afflict the federal legislature.


Compulsive Non-Partisanship

Compulsive non-partisans are people and groups which insist upon maintaining a false-equivalence between the parties and assuming that the truth exists between the opinions of both major political parties. These people disregard objective fact while discussing political issues and refuse to objectively analyze the positions of the parties. For the most part, this type of bias takes two forms:

  1. The assumption that both parties’ positions are equidistant from the truth – this type of bias is present in discussions over policy and the validity of partisan solutions to problems.

The single best example of this type of compulsive non-partisanship in modern American politics can be found in the area of climate change. On one hand, most Democrats agree with 99.7% of scientists in saying that climate change is a real problem, while, on the other, most Republicans refuse to believe the reality of the problem. In this specific situation, the truth is not between the two parties (that climate science has not yet reached a concrete conclusion), as the Democrats are demonstrably correct and the Republicans are demonstrably wrong. Despite this objective measure of the facts in regard to the positions of the parties, many insist on calling the situation even.

  1. The assumption that both parties’ conduct is equally valid and moral/immoral – we often see this in discussions over political tactics and maneuvers.

A great example of this type of bias is present in discussions over the political gridlock and legislative paralysis that has gripped Washington recently. In some mediums, people assume that all of Washington is broken and that everybody is equally to blame—this is a logical fallacy that disregards a concerted effort by the GOP to disrupt the legislative process. It is demonstrable that the use of the filibuster has exploded in recent years (under the Bush Administration, the Democrats similarly abused the process) and that Republicans have made a concerted effort to stop anything of import form getting done. Gridlock exists in Washington, simply because one party has decided to check out of the legislative process and bring the system to a halt—it is not an issue of both sides deserving equal blame.


Put simply, the parties are not always equal and sometimes one party is completely correct on an issue or is acting in a way which is far more moral than the other. Assuming that both parties are equally grounded in reality and good governance is not a realisic outlook on politics and will only result in a terrible false-equivalency being formed.


How to Avoid Compulsive Partisanship and Non-Partisanship

In order to bypass the biases which surround partisanship, you simply need to look at everything through an objective lens. Every policy should be looked at on its merits and its basis in good public policy rather than the letter next to the name of the person who is supporting it. Every decision should be looked at in a manner which is blind to partisan alliances—if somebody is doing something immoral (ex. Obama’s double-tap drone strikes), you should not rationalize their actions or make excuses based upon the fact that they are on your “team.”

It is the duty of the media to walk this line between partisanship and compulsive non-partisanship in order to give us the FACTS. If one party is completely wrong, it is not partisan for the media to take a side—that is simply good fact-checking—and the media has the duty to ensure that people are not drawn into a false-equivalence. Unfortunately, the media has been lacking in this regard during recent years and has consistently refused to do its job; as such, it has fallen to the individual to get informed and make rational and objective decisions.

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