Polarization In The Political System Essay

2334 words - 9 pages

On Tuesday, November 14, 1995, in what has been perceived as the years biggest non-event, the federal government shut down all "non-essential" services due to what was, for all intents and purposes, a game of national "chicken" between the House Speaker and the President. And, at an estimated cost of 200 million dollars a day, this dubious battle of dueling egos did not come cheap (Bradsher, 1995, p.16). Why do politicians find it almost congenitally impossible to cooperate? What is it about politics and power that seem to always put them at odds with good government? Indeed, is an effective, well run government even possible given the current adversarial relationship between our two main political parties? It would seem that the exercise of power for its own sake, and a competitive situation in which one side must always oppose the other on any issue, is incompatible with the cooperation and compromise necessary for the government to function. As the United States becomes more extreme in its beliefs in general, group polarization and competition, which requires a mutual exclusivity of goal attainment, will lead to more "showdown" situations in which the goal of good government gives way to political posturing and power-mongering.In this paper I will analyze recent political behavior in terms of two factors: Group behavior with an emphasis on polarization, and competition. However, one should keep in mind that these two factors are interrelated. Group polarization tends to exacerbate inter-group competition by driving any two groups who initially disagree farther apart in their respective views. In turn, a competitive situation in which one side must lose in order for the other to win (and political situations are nearly always competitive), will codify the differences between groups - leading to further extremism by those seeking power within the group - and thus, to further group polarization.In the above example, the two main combatants, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, were virtually forced to take uncompromising, disparate views because of the very nature of authority within their respective political groups. Group polarization refers to the tendency of groups to gravitate to the extreme of whatever opinion the group shares (Baron & Graziano, 1991, p.498-99). Therefore, if the extreme is seen as a desirable characteristic, individuals who exhibit extreme beliefs will gain authority through referent power. In other words, they will have characteristics that other group members admire and seek to emulate (p. 434). Unfortunately, this circle of polarization and authority can lead to a bizarre form of "one-upsmanship" in which each group member seeks to gain power and approval by being more extreme than the others. The end result is extremism in the pursuit of authority without any regard to the practicality or "reasonableness" of the beliefs in question. Since the direction of polarization is currently in opposite directions in our two party...

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