October 20, 2008

More politics: Stanley Fish (wrongley) on the two-party system

I just found this blog post from Stanley Fish (Dr. Belt's professor at Johns Hopkins, for those who didn't know). He has a blog on the NYTimes. I think he's generally pretty brilliant. Except this post in question, entitled "Against Independent Voters." You can read it for yourself, and I think you'll probably be just as confused as I am trying to figure out how such a well-educated guy can be so off when it comes to partisan politics. The part that made me cringe most:

Floating independently above the fray and inhabiting the marketplace of ideas as if were a shopping bazaar rather than a battlefield is an unnatural condition. The natural condition is to be political. To be political is to believe something, and to believe something is to believe that those who believe something else are wrong, and after all you don’t want people who believe (and would do) the wrong things running your government. So you organize with other like-minded folks and smite the enemy (verbally) hip and thigh. You join a party.

What do independent voters do? Well, most of all, they talk about the virtue of being an independent voter. When they are asked to explain what that means, they say, “I can’t stand the partisan atmosphere that has infected our politics” (forgetting that politics is partisan by definition); or “we like to make up our own minds and don’t want anyone telling us what to do (as if Democrats and Republicans were sheep eager to go over whatever cliff the leadership brings them to) or (and this was a favorite of those interviewed in Iowa and New Hampshire), “We vote the person rather than the party."

Maybe he doesn't realize that the political parties of today don't get everything right and that if there were more than two important parties we'd have a lot less independents?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the biggest thing he neglected was some independent voters' perception that there is little difference between candidates, on fundamentals (legitimacy of taxation, scope of government) as well as specifics (FISA, bailout, the draft).

The more similar two candidates are, the more indifferent the voters are. Eventually the cost of diverting their vote from the "lesser of two evils" to a third party (or no party) becomes near zero.

October 21, 2008 at 4:29 PM 
Blogger JHitts said...

But I don't think he was talking about only this election, though...I think he meant in general. Which seems kind of preposterous to me.

October 21, 2008 at 4:46 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

True. In general, think most people who talk about voting who don't know public choice theory usually get their voting models wrong from the start.

Also see Rational_Irrationality

October 21, 2008 at 6:03 PM 
Blogger Tony said...

I think this is convincing:


October 22, 2008 at 10:44 PM 
Blogger M. Perkins said...

I think if he struck out "independent" and put in "middle voter," I'd agree. Middle voters tend to be (amusingly) self-righteous about their lack of conviction and willingness to be swayed by the most effective propaganda.

This is different from an independent, who may be relatively certain of his ideas and understandably finds each party lacking and uninspiring.

On the one hand, a self-satisfied unwillingness to think; on the other, an unwillingness to align with two compromised and corrupt parties.

October 24, 2008 at 3:19 PM 

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