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You and Your Crew: Why Party Allegiance is Becoming Meaningless

July 29, 2013

by J. Andrew Zalucky

one of us

Group Mentality: It was Stupid in High School and College, and Makes for Even Worse Politics

I’ve always thought that “group loyalty” or allegiance to a certain social clique was kind of stupid. I had a group of close friends growing up, but each of them usually came from different groups or cliques. I liked to pick my friends based on individual characteristics, rather than for the sake of group integration. Back in 9th grade, I was often asked, “Drew, why do you hang out with [insert name here], isn’t he kind of a loser/faggot/pot-head/kitchen sink/ect?” My answer would almost always be the same, “Well, he’s a good friend to me and we get along fine so what’s the problem?” I guess I didn’t realize there was some unspoken set of qualifications one had to pass to become a friend. What I realized later on was that they really were trying to say: “[Insert name here] isn’t part of our group, but you kind of are, so why do you hang out with [insert name here]…aren’t you one of us?”

True, teenagers often band together in common social circles, as it can help to frame the development of one’s roots, values, and personal identity. I can definitely relate to this, and i don’t mean to say “look at how much of an individual I was! Go me!” But there are limits that everyone needs to recognize when it comes to group mentality. While I expected a lot of this at age 14, I was amazed at how pervasive this way of thinking was at 18, during my first semester of college. Once I had reached my 2nd semester, I was more or less able to replicate the social patterns I’d established in high school, and since I went to a huge University, I never had to explain to an inquisitive friend who wondered why I hung out with “person X” he or she didn’t approve of. Still, it amazed me to see how quickly different social cliques coalesced, and how iron-clad many of these still were by the time I’d graduated.

To be fair, there is a certain class of hyperactive social butterflies who really are fake and superficial, like “social mercenaries” who have no identity or personality of their own and thus seek it out in every direction possible. I’ve known plenty of these people too and they are genuinely annoying to have to put up with. But that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to think “these 5-8 people are your friends and you can ONLY EVER hang out with them…EVER!” As if going to the dining hall with a different group of people (or by yourself…::gasp:: SCANDAL!!!) was some Benedict Arnold-esque act of betrayal. Ridiculous.

“So wait, what does this have to do with politics?”

I thought you’d never ask! Quite a lot actually, except this time it actually matters! Blind loyalty to political parties is pretty ridiculous, especially in a two-party dominated system like the United States. It’s why I registered Independent and have always voted with mixed ballots. I figured that a candidate should earn my vote, regardless of which party he or she comes from. While my voting history has tended to lean towards Libertarians and the Democrats, I could easily vote for more Republicans than I have if I thought they were more qualified. The only thing that would change in that case would be that instead of my family being pissed off at me, my friends would be instead. Whatever.

If you haven’t done so already, I highly suggest you pick up This Town, the new book by Mark Leibovich. Much of what he describes shows how Washington DC really can be like a High School drama, writ-large (though he does point out that the analogy isn’t always perfect). Perhaps this explains why so many Democrats, who were screaming at the Bush Administration for its transgressions on civil liberties and the war on terror, have completely capitulated when it comes to the Obama Administration.

“B-b-but he’s our guy! It’s ok when he does these things, because he’s on our side! C’mon, enough with the “fake scandals”, #UniteBlue!!!”

Spare me.

However, there is a growing faction of Democrats who have begun to change their minds and suddenly realize that civil liberties are you know, important. Crazy thing is, there are a lot of Republicans who feel the same way about a lot of things.

In case you’ve been too busy reading about the royal birth or trying to create your own Anthony Wiener sexting-pseudonym (I got “Ignacio Sly”…lol), there was a pretty incredible vote held in the House of Representatives last week, (via David Weigel):

Earlier this week it became clear that a libertarian/liberal-backed amendment to restrict the National Security Agency might actually pass. Michigan Reps. Justin Amash and John Conyers (a Republican and a Democrat) wrote the amendment, intending to add it to the Defense Appropriations Bill and restrict the NSA from collecting metadata on Americans not under suspicion of terrorist activities.

First of all, the fact that this should even have to come up for a vote is incredible. Second, it’s genuinely amazing that any lawmaker who’s actually bothered to read the constitution should be able to vote “Nay” on this amendment. The measure didn’t end up passing, but the vote was encouragingly close at 217-205, which definitely sends a message to those still advocating for the intrusive NSA programs revealed last month by Edward Snowden. I was pretty pumped about this amendment, I even called my congressmen to encourage him to vote yes. And though I’m not entirely surprised, it was a little disheartening to see him vote the other way around.

Even more interesting still was how the vote broke down and shifted party allegiances(via Glenn Greenwald):

The most vocal defenders of the Obama White House’s position were Rep. Mike Rogers, the very hawkish GOP Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Echoing the Democratic House leadership, Bachmann repeatedly warned that NSA bulk spying was necessary to stop “Islamic jihadists”, and she attacked Republicans who supported de-funding for rendering the nation vulnerable to The Terrorists.Meanwhile, Amash led the debate against the NSA program and repeatedly assigned time to many of the House’s most iconic liberals to condemn in the harshest terms the NSA program defended by the Obama White House.

Funny that Michele Bachmann, the woman whom garden-variety liberals love to (rightfully) associate with all the worst idiocies and excesses of American Conservatism, allied so eagerly with their chosen deity, President Obama. If you thought that was amazing, get a load of this:

In between these denunciations of the Obama NSA from House liberals, some of the most conservative members of the House stood to read from the Fourth Amendment. Perhaps the most amazing moment came when GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner – the prime author of the Patriot Act back in 2001 and a long-time defender of War on Terror policies under both Bush and Obama – stood up to say that the NSA’s domestic bulk spying far exceeds the bounds of the law he wrote as well as his belief in the proper limits of domestic surveillance, and announced his support for Amash/Conyers.

In other words, the divide was not between the parties, but on an essential matter of principle. As it turns out, a majority of Democrats voted in favor of the amendment along with a sizable minority of Republicans. Both parties also saw members vote opposite their leaders, which is always an encouraging sign. And as a recent Pew Research Poll shows, the country is beginning to show an almost even divide on civil liberties, one which transcends party loyalties:

3-Both-Parties-Divided-in-Civil-Liberties-Concerns-over-Anti-Terrorism-Programs

Don’t get me wrong, conflict is the essential characteristic of democratic politics- and in that sense, political parties are a useful way of rallying to a certain set of principles or interests. But there needs to be internal dissent, or else the party becomes like a group of robots. There comes a time within any group of friends, co-workers, or lawmakers when someone has to say “this is really, really, really stupid…and I refuse to go along with this.” And though I usually think calls for more bi-partisanship are kind of silly (much of the worst, most destructive policies the US government enjoy plenty of warm and fuzzy bi-partisan support), it’s encouraging to see people from different parties rally together on something important to the national interest.

As was evidenced by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s ridiculous, demagogic remarks the other day about how “dangerous” libertarianism is, the conflict on many of these issues is no longer between Democrats and Republicans. It is between those who are want to live in a grim, fearful society where the greatest pleasure is to see their “team” win, and those who wish to preserve a free and open society that values its security within reasonable, lawful limits, no matter who’s in power.

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