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OPINION: Facts and Logic Go AWOL in Two-Party Politics

American two-party politics is fairly described as a polarized fight between the left and right. Mutual distrust, contempt, fear and anger, and collective “animosity” drive the polarization. For the most part, the warring sides clash based on differing ideological faiths, values, and perceptions of reality. The resulting policy choices are usually starkly different.

People can argue that politics based on a combination of ideological faith (optimism) and animosity is a healthy state of affairs because fierce competition in a marketplace of ideas fosters social and economic progress. That is one theory. It is partially true, but mostly not.

It is hard to deny that the two-party war makes governing more difficult. There is compelling evidence that political judgement is driven mostly by intuition, not reason. With politics grounded in intuition based on a combination of ideological faith and animosity, compromise is arduous, if not impossible.

There is compelling evidence that political judgement is driven mostly by intuition, not reason.
Dissident Politics
Assessing policy choices, which should be a mostly objective fact- and logic-driven matter, is instead a largely subjective, intuition-driven endeavor. For better or worse, when subjectivity dominates, it necessarily means that fact and reason are subordinate to intuition and faith. That creates waste and reduces efficacy.

Most liberal and conservative Americans presented with that description of two-party politics would say it doesn’t much apply to themselves and their side, but it does apply to the opposition. It is a fact, not opinion, that the two sides frequently have mutually incompatible perceptions of reality and they apply their logic to those different sets of facts to arrive at mutually incompatible policy choices. More gun control vs. less, anthropogenic climate change vs. none, and higher taxes vs. lower are obvious examples.

Even when both sides agree on a broad policy goal — e.g., tax code reform — ideological disagreements and/or special interest intervention invariably prevent broad change. The best that partisans can do is to take an occasional step or two.

In this framework, the public interest is a relevant concept. As Dissident Politics and others have argued, the public interest has to be defined objectively in some manner. Otherwise it is a meaningless, subjective term the left, right and special interests use to justify policy choices that support their beliefs or interests. A partisan definition thus renders the public interest a useless concept as a reference point for governance.

From an objectively defined public interest point-of-view, there is only one reality or set of unspun facts and one best logic for any given issue. That means only one best policy choice exists for the public interest. Incompatible policy choices that liberal or conservative partisans choose is compelling evidence that two-party politics is more subjective than objective.

From the public interest point-of-view, reason dictates three possibilities. First, liberals are mostly right because their policy choices are best overall for the public interest. Second, conservatives are mostly right because their policy choices are best overall. Third, both sides are, on balance, more wrong than right. Both sides cannot be best for the public interest because partisan policy choices are incompatible.

If that logic is persuasive, it should elicit discomfort and/or disbelief in most people.

There is other objective evidence that American politics is significantly based on competing sets of “facts” or spin, which includes false fact beliefs and flawed logic. For example, the left (examples here, here, here, and here) and right (examples here, here, here, and here) routinely accuse each other of fabrication and/or being delusional, often in spite of relevant facts that fully accord with neither side. Both sides routinely base policy choices on “facts” the other side calls lies or dismisses as irrelevant.

Although the problem is more pronounced for conservatives, fact checkers show that both sides often rely on false facts, withheld facts or context, flawed logic, and/or deceit in their rhetoric (as seen here, here, here, and here).

Evidence also comes from social science. For people who hold “strong ideological convictions, . . . . too often, beliefs trump the scientific facts. This is called motivated reasoning, in which our brain reasons our way to supporting what we want to be true.”

Human perceptions of reality or facts and the judgments that arise are overwhelmingly intuitive. Humans make most judgments rapidly and unconsciously, but are “dreadful at seeking out evidence that might disconfirm those initial judgments.” Social scientists have long known that “people’s beliefs about political issues are often poorly connected to objective facts.”

Unfortunately, the two-party system (i.e., both parties and most of their politicians, partisan advocates and major financial backers) routinely but intentionally deceives and misinforms, sometimes including unspun facts coupled with misinformation.

A fair conclusion is that facts and logic are simply too often AWOL in politics. That makes sense if one believes that the two-party system intentionally fosters a misinformed, distracted public. That miserable state of affairs may best serve the needs of our corrupt two-party system, but that often comes with damage to the public interest.