Congressional Partisanship

by Edward Henkler on July 2, 2013

In “The Righteous Mind”, Jonathan Haidt suggests some underlying causes of the partisanship that has parallelized our government.  In the first part of his book, he identifies six foundations which guide all of us to a greater or lesser degree: Care/harm, Liberty/oppression, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation.  The specific definitions are all available in his book but aren’t critical to understanding his points.

Republican v Democrat

How do we move away from parallizing partisanship?

Haidt suggests that liberals in America are most influenced by Care/harm and Liberty/oppression.  Their belief system must be aligned with these two foundations and to a much lesser degree, Fairness/cheating.  Conservatives in America are influenced by all six foundations and although the influence is not equal across the spectrum, they each play a role in the conservative moral matrix.  He doesn’t suggest that either approach is better, only that the differences explain why very intelligent, rational individuals can disagree vehemently on so many topics.

He also notes our tendency to confirm rather than finding outliers which would invalidate a theory.  His example comes from a card game in which participants are asked to detect the pattern between pairs of cards.  When confronted with pairs that suggest even number pairings, it would be wisest to propose an odd number pairing to see if the pattern is evens only.  Most individuals tend instead, to keep choosing even number pairs which suggest but don’t prove that the pattern is even numbers only.  We tend to do the same thing with our beliefs by looking for further validation of our belief and discounting anything that suggests we’re wrong.

A third component is specific to Congress but could easily become an issue as we move to more working from home or other virtual offices.  Prior to 1995, most Congressmen brought their families to DC and there was a tendency for families to socialize outside the Congressional walls.  In ’95, Newt Gingrich encouraged incoming Republicans to leave their families in their home district.  In the ensuing years, cross-party interactions have become almost exclusively business-focused with very few social interactions.  Partisanship has risen progressively as a byproduct.

What does this have to do with us?  It comes back to some of my favorite themes – listen more than you speak and always seek to understand the other person’s viewpoint.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kelly July 2, 2013 at 4:45 pm

That looks like an interesting book! I’ll have to check it out!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: