Andrea’s post on sports and Michael’s on the impact of the election on students’ preparation for class brought to mind this thread over at the Volokh Conspiracy. Ilya Somin links to articles in the Washington Post and Slate arguing that political partisans behave like sports fans They are less interested in a careful consideration of the issues than in identifying with one side or the other. Ilya maintains that this is a manifestation of rational ignorance, i.e., the idea that voters rationally invest little effort in obtaining political information because their vote is unlikely to be important. When some voters, e.g., political junkies, do obtain such information, the purpose is not to help in making a decision, but to enhance the enjoyment of being on, for example, the Republican or Democratic teams.
Yesterday, a packed room of more than one hundred people at the Law School was treated to the latest installment of On the Issues with Mike Gousha, featuring Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus and Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke. Gousha began the program by asking Priebus and Wineke about what role Wisconsin will play in the outcome of this year’s presidential election. Both party chairmen confirmed that Wisconsin is considered “in play” for the presidential election, with recent polling showing Barack Obama with a narrow 2-3 point lead over John McCain in the state. When asked what factor(s) will determine the election, Priebus suggested that the issue of trust — that is, which candidate voters trust most — will be dispositive. Wineke countered that the election would turn on the economy. Both also agreed that get out the vote (GOTV) volunteer efforts will be critical to success, in the state and nationally.
So says a wonderfully titled post on Prawfsblog by Matt Brodie. The point is that much of our political discourse is given over to charges of hypocrisy. We wrap ourselves into knots to be able to say that those we don’t agree with have been inconsistent. Anyone who even casually follows political blogs has read the hackneyed “pot, meet kettle” so often as to wish to never see or hear it ever again.
Why do we do this? My own view flows from two observations. The first is that our society has altered the former balance between the perceived value of personal authenticity in the sense of following your own lights and the virtue of conforming to a set of standards that originates outside yourself. We have moved toward a greater appreciation of the former. This is not to argue that we have given ourselves over to a radical moral relativism, only that our discourse had shifted in a way that charges of hypocrisy have a particular salience.