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Jim de Bree: The interference of partisanship

Posted: September 22, 2016 8:22 a.m.
Updated: September 22, 2016 8:22 a.m.
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I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers discussed the outlook for tax legislation in the next session of Congress.

While most of what was discussed was directed toward tax geeks, there was a part of the presentation that is instructive of the general political climate in the U.S.

The organization sponsoring the conference conducted several polls asking the respondents about their views on various issues.

For example, one question described a measure to protect Social Security from budget cuts. The question indicated that it was a measure supported by Hillary Clinton.

The measure was supported by 88 percent of the respondents who identified themselves as Democrats, while only 57 percent of self-identified Republicans supported the measure.

The identical measure was described to another group of respondents. However, the respondents were told that it was a measure sponsored by Republicans.

Only 84 percent of Democrats supported the measure, while 74 percent of Republicans supported it.

Another question asked whether the respondent supported a universal health care plan that was introduced by the Obama administration. While 82 percent of Democrats supported the proposal, only 16 percent of Republicans indicated their support.

However, when the identical proposal was attributed to Donald Trump, Democratic support dropped to 46 percent while Republican support increased to 44 percent.

The measures described in the polls are fictitious, so in reality neither political party had anything to do with them.

However, the responses are not fiction. What they show is that behavior is heavily influenced by party affiliation rather than a substantive understanding of the issues.

This is not surprising since the media is so polarized. Whether it is cable news, talk radio or social media, people tend to listen only to media that reinforces what they already believe.

Unfortunately, a considerable part of the information presented is either misinformation or an overly simplistic view of the world. Each of the political parties encourages this because it drums up support for its agenda.

Even the editorial pages of The Signal are subject to this phenomenon. How many columns or letters to the editor contain a balanced discussion of the issues? The Signal’s online site contains discussions responding to published op-ed pieces that are replete with examples of readers who pontificate about the issues that concern them the most, citing their favorite website as gospel while disregarding opposing views expressed by others.

All of this partisanship bias has resulted in an erosion of the pragmatic center. An inflexible divergence of views makes it considerably harder, perhaps even impossible, for problem-solvers to reach a consensus necessary to achieve optimal solutions.

In the coming years, we are going to inevitably face a number of tough issues. The world is rapidly changing and we are going to need “outside of the box” thinking to resolve both long-term issues that have not been addressed as well as emerging issues that will define the next generation.

Although the polls discussed above dealt with issues surrounding the future of American tax policy, they are applicable to a much broader set of issues.

The polling strongly suggests that partisanship will play an enormous role in the outcome of issues and may actually impede their optimal resolution.

So what can we do to change this mindset? We can start by listening to the other side and objectively analyzing its talking points.

We can also apply a healthy degree of skepticism not only to the talking points of others, but also to those that are within our comfort zone.

None of this is easy, but if we do so, we might find that we have more common ground than we think with those having opposing views.

In my experience, moving out of my comfort zone can be painful, but it always results in growth. It is challenging to move out of your comfort zone because you must be cognizant of opportunities and accept potential outcomes that are outside of your norm without compromising your principles.

If we do so, we are likely to conclude that the political leaders of both parties are following their own agendas for retaining power rather than placing public interests at the pinnacle of their endeavors.

The long-term challenge will be to find leaders who value citizenship over partisanship. Given the popular support of recent candidates who are not part of the establishment, it is clear that America longs for this.

Many readers may believe that this article does not apply to them because they believe that their partisan talking points are objective.

Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to challenge their perceived objectivity and try to independently examine issues rather than rely solely on partisan sources.

Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.

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