On the tendency to abstract away individual policies in favor of the general political orientation

For those who know me, this will seem like an odd topic to start with. My knowledge of politics is fairly limited (I’m working on rectifying that) and therefore, to start my new blog with a commentary on the subject seems a little odd. However, what I am going to talk about is fairly simple. I’ve noticed a tendency developing amongst the more politically-minded of my friends to start thinking in terms of general political orientation rather than ideas themselves. If you’re strongly on the left of the political spectrum for example, you’ll have a tendency to go with the political candidate who is said to embody the most leftist views without being of the radical left. That makes a certain amount of sense. If you consider yourself of the left, than you and the candidate you support will agree on very many things and those things you disagree about will be of less importance. If the choice is between two candidates, one from the left, one from the right, than it will almost invariably make sense for the leftist to favor the candidate from the left. The problem arises when you’re faced with a choice between two candidates who are fairly close on the political spectrum, during a primary election for example. Should their perceived place on the political spectrum still matter to you when you make your choice of which candidate to support? This is where we have to remember that we are not voting for ideologies, but for policies and ideas.

During the US primary election of 2008, it was pointed out to me that by chosing to suport Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton, I wasn’t chosing the candidate that embodied the left the most. While this turned out to be wrong in the end, this statement should give us pause. Should we really stop looking at policies and chose our candidates based on a political compass? If we consider ourselves quite left-wing, should we vote for the candidate that is generally perceived as the most left-wing of the pack? In the French election there are two rounds, the first where all parties are represented and the second where only the top two compete. In this type of election, it is quite normal to question someone’s political choices when they go from chosing the communist party in the first round to the right in the second round when both left and right are present in the second round. How can the next best thing after the far-left be the right? But when we come to picking candidates from a same political family, should we really be concerned about who is more to the left or the right? It could be that by following this tactic, you always end up voting for the candidate that suits you the best, but there’s also a good chance that you’ll miss out on a candidate who embodies your views more accurately than you’ll care to notice.

This questionable shortcut leads to another problem, that of adopting views that are not really ones own as a result of party allegiance. It has been my experience that certain people support certain policies that they never really felt strongly about in the first place because that is what it means to be a socialist or a conservative or a libertarian. In my opinion, that defeats the point of democratic elections. You can find yourself in a position where, because of a few ideas you share with a party, you throw your lot with that movement and slowly adopt all the views associated to it. You end up in a situation where you miss out on a party that is actually more suited to your ideas because the set of views that you had have been replaced by a new set of ideas that are not your own. I suppose that in the end, what I am suggesting is that, when considering candidates in a general election, we take a step back from the parties and think in terms of our own ideas and see what truly matches. This is much better than matching ones views with whatever the new trend of the party is. In essence, you could say I am proning a more apolitical approach to elections. I use apolitical here in the sense of having no affiliation with a party, the affiliation constructing itself as part of the decision process. Of course, you might always come back to the same general party, but your inner-party choices might find themselves radically changed. This might also push you to defend certain ideas not necessarily associated with your party of choice so that in following elections, a candidate who has heard the many voices of divergence on the issue may pick this up and represent this idea along with the more trendy party ideas. In the 2012 French election, none of the Socialist party members defended the need to keep the French nuclear park growing (why I support nuclear power so strongly could be the subject of a future post). That idea was espoused strongly by the right. This unanimity against nuclear on the left did not change my opinion on the subject however and neither should it (unless rational arguments are presented that tip my opinion that way). If we all align our views around parties, we end up limiting the space of potential policy combinations that might work well together.

What I have written in this first post will seem obvious to many and will maybe seem to them not worth writing about, but I hope that this post will cause others to think. As I have said in the opening paragraph, my knowledge of politics is limited and I might be missing something essential which a serious introduction to politics might shed light on. However, I do believe that I can make the above points in part because I am not knee deep in political theory. This will be for readers to judge. Comments are welcome.

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One comment

  1. I agree with this completely. When people sacrifice their individuality for the sake of party solidarity, I think it makes democracy less meaningful. Political parties (at least in the US) end up being controlled by party chairmen. As seen in the Democratic National Convention, the people don’t have a huge say when deciding party platforms and positions.

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