Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We’re Not All Crazy: Partisan Politics

The recent report released by Samara, along with the Liberal convention of last weekend has inspired me to write this. The idea for this spawned from a single moment. During the Liberal convention Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) correctly criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) for not speaking to the media. That’s fine. However, Trudeau then proceeded to avoid the media or answer their questions for the remainder of the convention. It takes a certain amount of gall to be that hypocritical. Following journalists on Twitter, they were gobsmacked, but worse still was that equal numbers of Liberal and Conservative partisans attacked them for either failing to ask Trudeau questions and treating him with kid-gloves, or persecuting Trudeau and being Harperites.

The contrast is stunning, and to any non-partisan outsider they must all seem inflicted with some strange mental illness.

I am also forced to wonder if this is why parties become such isolated, narrow groups. The scare off anyone capable of critical thought and self-reflection.

I think I have identified the three types of people who participate in partisan politics:


Wonks are policy nerds, ideas trump the party. They care about the issues, and likely have preferred answers to important questions. They generally try to make themselves experts in these fields and obsessively study the matter. They probably got into politics to advance their concept further and a political party is the best vessel. Sometimes they’ll gravitate to particular politicians who push this agenda.

Ideologues and Activists

Ideologues and activists are those whose beliefs trump that party. In the NDP this is personified best by the Socialist Caucus who has so often butt heads with the greater party. The Socialists are committed believers and many would abandon the NDP if they failed to meet their standard. Social Conservatives play a similar role with the conservative parties, and sometimes flee for minor parties when their needs are ignored.

Faithful Partisans

These are the diehards, nothing trumps the party. They believe in their parties first and foremost. They defend them viciously and see no (or limited) value in the others. Winning is all that matters. If the party changes its core values it is all validated in the name of winning. While this is an extreme example, faithful partisans would line up behind Prime Minister Harper even if he declared that he wanted to nationalize banks and greatly expand the debt (more than he already has).

The faithful partisans are different in that unlike the wonks, ideologues and activists they tend not to get their heartbroken. Back in Ontario I am very disappointed in the provincial NDP, and could imagine seeking out a party that better fit my values. To a faithful partisan this would be an unthinkable treason. This concept is probably better represented in a Venn diagram than three distinct categories. I’ve know faithful partisans with strong ideologies who are experts in policy. Still, there is an attitude question that shapes thinking far more than particular intellectual interest. It’s about loyalty and principles and deciding what matters more.

To non-partisans party members can seem like lunatics. It should be understood that a lot of different of people are members of political parties, and it is not necessary to have cultish devotion and drink the kool-aid quite so deeply. We’re not all crazy. 

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