I remember one college class where we had to write an analysis of an article supporting a controversial social issue. At first, I thought it was a fine article as I agreed with the conclusion. My homework, though, was not to agree or disagree, but to analyze and it turns out that it really wasn't a very good article. It made unsubstantiated claims about history, referred to unnamed "studies" and it attacked opponents as "bigots" (which may be true, but isn't a justification for the premise). I figured that those in the class who opposed the issue would have a field day with this.
The next day, those who agree with the conclusion generally thought it was well-written. I expected this due to confirmation bias. What I didn't expect was that those who disagreed with the premise didn't attack the article at all. Not one. They attacked the conclusion. They were adamant about their opinions, but not one of them thought critically enough about the article to point out its flaws. All things considered, this was a perfect microcosm of politics.
So let's say you're watching TV and there's a major press conference on. An unknown (to you) political candidate, Bill Blatherson is asked about his views on abortion, gun control and gay marriage. As soon as you hear those answers, you probably already know two things:
- If he's a Republican or Democrat.¹
- If you're going to support him.
But what happens if they're talking about a school board voting procedures or adjusting zoning regulations to address home businesses needs? There's a good chance that you'll look for the (R) or the (D) next to the candidate's name. I do this myself and frankly, this is dangerous No political party has a monopoly on good ideas, but people are constantly looking at the (R) and (D) to determine if they support an idea. Everyone's made up their mind about abortion and gun control, but funding for a new sewage line? Let's see which political party supports it and then I'll tell you.
Two perfect examples: plenty of "conservatives" are strongly defending Sarah Palin despite the fact that she completely goes against McCain's strong argument that experience matters. Plenty of "liberals" are defending the nomination of Biden as Obama's vice presidential candidates despite this being completely at odds with Obama's repeated attacks against McCain based on McCain's tenure in Washington. People are lining up and taking sides regardless of truth and this has to stop.
To be perfectly fair, if you've gotten to the point that you tend to trust one political party over another, it's not a crime to defer to them over issues that you don't understand or care about. There's a reason we elect people we are supposed trust on the issues. However, if we get emotional and defensive about issues we don't understand (for example, very few people could begin to describe the background of the Israeli/Palestinian situation), then we're making a mistake by ceding our authority to someone else, but strongly defending positions we're ignorant of.
I think it's time that we stop talking about Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives or other things which "categorize" people politically. I've been part of the problem on this myself and I'm going to try and stop. This doesn't mean that I won't take swipes at stupid things politicians say and do, but I'm going to try and stop the categorization. Furthering the we/they mentality is throwing fuel on the fire. If you catch me doing this in the future, please call me on it!
1. For the Libertarians who cry foul, let's face it: the press doesn't give you major press conferences.