False Analogies: Party VS Ideology

Posted on 21st March 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Normally when I put the “VS” into a title, I am referring to a False Dichotomy — reducing a debate with many degrees into two extremes. Here I wish to illustrate a False Analogy, making two things equivalent when they are in fact very different. In this case, the difference between a Political Party and an Ideology.

I am often amazed when I ask various people about their political leanings that instead of replying “Liberal,” “Conservative,” or “Libertarian,” with degree qualifiers, they answer “Democrat” or “Republican.” There is nothing inherently wrong with these answers. Identifying oneself with a Political Party and voting accordingly is as legitimate as voting for a candidate’s position on an issue or their character.

Where this thinking so often goes awry is when people begin to use the words “Democrat” and “Liberal” or “Republican” and “Conservative” interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. In Academic writing, making this mistake is considered a grievous error that will seriously damage your arguments. Why then, do we not blink an eye when this abuse occurs in mainstream political commentary?

“Liberal” and “Conservative” are terms to describe ideologies. Ideologies are profound. They are substantive belief systems that define us and our worldview on a personal level. “Democrat” and “Republican” are the names of two American political parties. Political Parties are trite. They operate similar to Brothels, appealing to the lowest common populist notions in an effort to scavenge the maximum amount of support.

At the core of every Political Party there is an ideology, but is there Ideological Integrity within the Party? For some of its members, absolutely, but political parties comprise thousands of members. Do they all split into entirely liberal and conservative parties? Do the parties themselves represent liberalism and conservatism?


Context and Relativity

For simplicity, let’s reduce the terms Liberal and Conservative to a single dimension: progressive policy versus maintaining the status quo. How do these concepts apply to Environmental Conservation? Preserving the natural world, environmental stability, and the natural status quo is Conservative. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was one of our nation’s earliest conservationists, a Republican and a hunter.

This one is easy to rationalize. We live in a Capitalist society, therefore, the status quo may be defined as development. Corporations are the standard and their needs supercede preservation of natural resources. Of course, this implies an ever-evolving definition of status quo, and leaves us to question: At what point does a policy go from being progressive to being institutionalized? When did progressive Capitalism become institutionalized Capitalism and institutionalized Preservation become progressive Preservation?

Beyond temporal contexts, there are also Cultural ones. What would be the Status Quo for American Indians on the Environment? Or consider the difference between Europeans and Americans on certain personal freedoms. Europeans resist any attempt to restrict or regulate their right to drive a car, but accept strong limits on the right to own firearms. Americans resist any attempt to restrict the right to bear arms, but think nothing of the severe restrictions placed on our driving privileges. Who’s being more Liberal and Conservative between our two cultures?


Contradiction

Another dimension to Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats favor personal freedoms, while Republicans favor economic ones. While there are pundits and even some academics who have attempted to categorize these two priorities into Liberal and Conservative, I will not. It offends rationality to do so.

But what about the completely contradictory stances the two parties take on the issue of gun control? Here we have Democrats taking a stance of limiting personal freedoms, while Republicans take the stance of expanding this right. How do we explain this flip-flopping of values? Where is the ideological integrity? The issue is actually quite complex when we consider the prosecution of crime, home security, resisting the Federal Government–there are too many dimensions to the issue to classify it as Progressive or Status Quo.

This one requires much more complex and tangled web of rationalizations to justify. Ready? Here goes… Post Modernist Critical Theory, a Liberal/Progressive school of thought, rejects the concept of Authorial Intention; therefore, the Liberal interpretation of the Constitution must take it at only what it says, not what the Founding Father’s intended it to mean. So when the 2nd Amendment states “for the purposes of maintaining a militia,” that’s all it covers. No militia, no right to bear arms.
Now consider the Democrats’ and Republicans’ shared opinion of militias (ie. They are BAD). Think it might be influenced by their shared opinion of Federal Power? Their shared preference for Communitarianism and Authoritarianism over Libertarianism?

Anyone want to call “Bullshit”???


Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

Politics is a competition of ideas. We can think of it as a game played between two teams, the Democrats and the Republicans. They are competing for the higher score, the “points” of this game are scored with votes. Votes are gained by winning the hearts and minds of individual people. The media serves as the playing field. The News Media are a type of referee, calling the action and deciding what action is most appropriate for the public consumption.

So what purpose does the person who listens to Limbaugh or Franken and quietly fumes in outrage serve? Are they players on the team? No, those are the politicians. If the person isn’t giving the speeches and debating in a public forum, they aren’t on the team.

Perhaps they are the Cheerleaders? Nope. Those are the party volunteers, getting out the word, organizing meetings and activities in support of the party candidates. If your not running around with a clipboard gathering signatures, or attending fundraisers, or getting out the vote, then you aren’t a cheerleader.

I know! Are they the fans? Might be, but in order to fulfill even this role, they have to vote. If half the country doesn’t vote, then most of these people don’t even fulfill even that much. Maybe half the country doesn’t have an opinion? If that were true, then opinion polls would reflect that, but they don’t. The country very much has an opinion, and at present that opinion is very polarized between the two teams.

So who are these people who aren’t Candidates, Party Volunteers, or even responsible Voters? There is one more person we’re forgetting. That guy who sits at home in his lazy-boy, drinking beer, and screaming at his Television screen because he knows what’s best. These people are called Armchair Quarterbacks. They are easy to forget about because they aren’t anywhere to be seen and they don’t have any effect on the game’s outcome. Nobody cares about them and when they tell us their version of how it should be, we nod politely and resume watching the game to see how it will be.

So now the question is: How far can we stretch a Metaphor before it finally snaps?

I don’t know, but I like this analogy. Disputation truly is a sport, a competition for the minds of our peers. Ideologies are what’s inside our heads, and getting that stuff into other people’s heads is the fun of the game.

Only, it’s also not at all like a game. The object of politics isn’t to win, it’s to cooperate. It’s all about the means. The purpose of a game isn’t the means, but the ends–whatever means will win, at any cost.

Political Parties aren’t out for your mind, they’re out for your vote.


Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

Politics is a competition of ideas. We can think of it as a game played between two teams, the Democrats and the Republicans. They are competing for the higher score, the “points” of this game are scored with votes. Votes are gained by winning the hearts and minds of individual people. The media serves as the playing field. The News Media are a type of referee, calling the action and deciding what action is most appropriate for the public consumption.

So what purpose does the person who listens to Limbaugh or Franken and quietly fumes in outrage serve? Are they players on the team? No, those are the politicians. If the person isn’t giving the speeches and debating in a public forum, they aren’t on the team.

Perhaps they are the Cheerleaders? Nope. Those are the party volunteers, getting out the word, organizing meetings and activities in support of the party candidates. If your not running around with a clipboard gathering signatures, or attending fundraisers, or getting out the vote, then you aren’t a cheerleader.

I know! Are they the fans? Might be, but in order to fulfill even this role, they have to vote. If half the country doesn’t vote, then most of these people don’t even fulfill even that much. Maybe half the country doesn’t have an opinion? If that were true, then opinion polls would reflect that, but they don’t. The country very much has an opinion, and at present that opinion is very polarized between the two teams.

So who are these people who aren’t Candidates, Party Volunteers, or even responsible Voters? There is one more person we’re forgetting. That guy who sits at home in his lazy-boy, drinking beer, and screaming at his Television screen because he knows what’s best. These people are called Armchair Quarterbacks. They are easy to forget about because they aren’t anywhere to be seen and they don’t have any effect on the game’s outcome. Nobody cares about them and when they tell us their version of how it should be, we nod politely and resume watching the game to see how it will be.

So now the question is: How far can we stretch a Metaphor before it finally snaps?

I don’t know, but I like this analogy. Disputation truly is a sport, a competition for the minds of our peers. Ideologies are what’s inside our heads, and getting that stuff into other people’s heads is the fun of the game.

Only, it’s also not at all like a game. The object of politics isn’t to win, it’s to cooperate. It’s all about the means. The purpose of a game isn’t the means, but the ends–whatever means will win, at any cost.

Political Parties aren’t out for your mind, they’re out for your vote.


Ideological Fortitude

“Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”

– Ronald Reagan

The worst result of “Democrat =’s Liberal” and “Republican =’s Conservative” is that it attributes an ideological fortitude to these institutions and therefore lends nobility and virtue to their purposes. There is little altruism in the reasons our politicians run for office, but there is everything to gain monetarily.

So the Democrats and Republicans are the teams, and they will try to win at any cost, by any means necessary. Just as a winning sports team sells more merchandise, to the victors of an election go the campaign contributions, the bumper stickers, the soapbox, even the ability to redefine the rules of the game.

All of these things give them more power to tell you what to think about the issues. In some horrible dystopia of Democracy gone bad, people who root for Political Teams over Ideologies believe the Government should tell them what’s what. This is very unhealthy. We have already explored the contradictions in thought that arise from this, but what about the lies, abuses, and unethical conduct that regularly arises in the political arena?

People who root for a political team are forced to rationalize the unethical conduct of their leaders. This threatens to give way to rationalizing our own immoral conduct. We begin to exercise justification of worse and worse behavior and become more accepting of it. Rather than confront the dishonesty of their political party, most pundits choose to defend it, articulating in greatly nuanced verbiage why the dishonesty of their team was different.

Do you advocate a principled and well thought out ideology that you have arrived at independently or do you merely spout catchphrases and sound bytes unthinkingly that your political pundits have placed in your head? Do you advocate positions or do you cheer on your political sports team? By distinguishing political party from an over-generalizing ideology, we do not place ourselves in a position where we must rationalize the discrepancies of thought and action that invariably emerge.

People avoid participation in the American political process because it is inherently contradictory. It offends rational thought, defies logic. No sane, healthy-minded person would want to be a part of such a system. Yet virtuous people do engage it, weather the storm, face the wolves, and several other clichés, all because they see injustice or a way to improve our society.

You can be one of those too. Figure out what you believe in. What’s important to you. Not what your candidate tells you is important. Find a cause and advocate it. Then write your congressperson. Join an online discussion. Donate to an organization that will lobby for your cause. Stay informed through independent means.

You are an Ideological Microcosm of the Political Macrocosm.

Vote accordingly.

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