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That damn Cognitive Dissonance

Our personal loyalty to our political leaders is so strong that we Americans are willing to change our previously held positions on public policy to reflect the positions of our leaders. On both sides of the aisle, voters are compelled to apply a sort of double standard to politicians… especially to those who hail from the other party.

That’s the message of reporter Shankar Vedantam. In his piece on NPR.org called “Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts,” he uses the work of Dartmouth poli-sci scholar Brendan Nyhan to show just how taken we are with our political leaders and their “constantly evolving” policy positions.

Take the nearly two-thirds of Republicans who tell pollsters that President Obama can do more about gas prices and two-thirds of Democrats who take the opposite position.

Economists generally side with the Left on this issue…and with the majority of Republicans who, six years ago, also said the price of gasoline was outside the realm of influence for the president…President Bush, that is.

Unfortunately, this sort of dynamic is the norm, rather than the exception. Citizens – especially those with strong political views – generally seem to defer to their political affiliations when they conflict with the facts.

In most situations, the partisan American voter is more than willing to don the hat of a hypocrite than apply uniform standards to ALL politicians.

This is not some grand development or show of solidarity. It’s proof of the polarization of our electorate to the point that we’re willing to compromise on policy for the good of that party.

The worst thing that this may signify is the great extent to which our political parties “got us by the balls,” as George Carlin used to say.

Unless our policy positions aren’t worth a damn – which isn’t good, either – being so wiling to reverse them in support of politicians is terrible.


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