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Saturday, October 7, 2006
A Problem with a Two Party System (or Three Deadly Sins of Partisanship)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:57 pm

A clear problem with a two party system is that by essentially making every election a binary choice means that partisans are prone to, especially over time, vest their side (in their own minds) with unlimited virtue and the side with undying vice. Call it the Crossfire/Hannity and Colmes Effect wherein all of the complexities of the political world have to be centered in one side or the other. I have termed the way in which we have a tendency to protect (or, at least, excuse) our own side as the “Deion Sanders Effect” (although, as I note in the original post, the younger members of the audience might want to call it the “Terrell Owens Effect”).

Because of the dichotomization of choices, we start thinking solely in terms of whether a particular event, or set of events, helps our side keep power or not. We, in turn, eschew critically evaluating our own side, or asking whether or not that which appealed to us about a given party in the first place-i.e., whether certain values and policies are, indeed, being promoted.

The response to such observations is that the “well, even a flawed version of our side is better than any version of their side.” Perhaps, but there does come a point where one’s side may lose their claim on one’s loyalty.

It seems to me that rabid partisanship often leads to three deadly sins:

1) The inability to look at one’s party with objectivity (a sin that has been committed rampantly in the last week or so).

2) The characterization of the other side as the enemy (rather than simply people with whom there are disagreements).

3) The notion that all that matters in politics is winning.


  1. It isn’t just a vice of the two-party system, Dr. Taylor. Anyone who is overly partisan is quite capable of considering anyone and everyone else as the enemy and failing to be objective.

    May I suggest a look at George Lakoff’s “Thinking Points” and his other work on “deep framing” for a probable reason why. Think of “deep frames” as reality maps - they aren’t easily amenable to simple facts and logic because facts and logic are understood and interpreted by reference to those very maps. Facts and logic have to be framed in language that must reflect the values and language of the deep frame before it can even by processed.

    Maybe its time for those from all points of the political compass who consider the point of politics to be good governance “by the people and for the people” - all the people - to work on their deep framing a whole lot more.

    Regards, Cernig

    Comment by Cernig — Saturday, October 7, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

  2. You are correct: partisanship can lead to the demonization of others regardless of the number of parties.

    However, with a two party system I would argue that the intense need for your side to right (i.e, correct) is amplified by the fact there there only two choices.

    The only way to give ground even a little is to defect from the system entirely. If there are multiple parties, there is at least the opportunity for alliance shifts at the margins-especially if one can follow one’s values from one party to another.

    With only two choices, one has to either go with the proverbial “lesser of two evils” or simply profess the evil of the other side and the virtue of one’s own.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, October 7, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

  3. I think your certainly on to something here. In a usual election today, you sell you message to the people. Now, people are busy and don’t have a lot of time to listen to indepth analysis (unless you a political junky like us bloggers), so they end up being sold primarily on talking points. These talking points are obviously huge oversimlifications like the black and white distinctions you point out above.

    Now, in a multi-party system where you need some form of multi-party consensus to get any legislation passed, you need to not only sell your ideas to the masses, but too each other. Politicians, oddly enough, have a lot of time to think about politics, and can, in theory, go a lot more in depth on a topic than is possible by the average voter. (while I’ll agree US politicians don’t go in depth right now, I would argue that is because they aren’t forced to in any way)

    Comment by Kevin H — Saturday, October 7, 2006 @ 4:39 pm

  4. […] Exhibit A of what I termed earlier in the day one of the “deadly sins of partisanship” (#1, in fact): an audio clip of James Dobson buying buying the prank hypothesis regarding Foley. […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » He Blinded Me with Partisanship — Saturday, October 7, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

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