Political parties choose sabotage over policy


Politics isn’t exactly fun these days. While a scandal or gaffe occasionally provides some levity to political proceedings, everything is usually deathly serious. Politicians are reaching for every lever they can find to gain even the slightest advantage over their opponents, and policy progress often takes a backseat to scoring political points. Everybody is afraid of losing the game of government, and that’s kind of a problem.

For a political parties, the greatest fear should instead be irrelevancy. Their entire existence is built on ideas, and an idea loses its power when no one thinks about it. It makes sense, then, that politicians want to keep their names in the headlines, and their policy proposals on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

I, for one, think they are watching too many sports movies.

When was the last time that the failure of an agenda was met graciously? The ongoing political brawl over healthcare is one of the most needlessly venomous and unproductive political conflicts in recent history, and it doesn’t have to be. Granted, it is a divisive issue, but nobody even seems to want to talk about the subject anymore because they’re too preoccupied with portraying their opponents as the “evil sports team” – the team that uses cheats and dirty tricks to beat the plucky bunch of misfits with actual heart.

Nobody wants to admit that they lost fair and square. When an agenda someone doesn’t approve of advances, or their own agenda stalls, the reaction is never, “We lost, but we’ll come back stronger next time. Time to hit the showers.” Every vote or political maneuver that blocks the progress of a political goal from either side is treated as a cheap trick by the loser, regardless of whether it’s a tactic they have in their playbook. Because, even when they don’t win, they want it to look like they should have.

It’s hard to know when this became such a big problem. It may be the advent of the televised political commentary, which has increasingly become a spectator sport, complete with blow-by-blow analysis. Or, it could be the absurd amount of coverage modern political elections garner. Coverage that places too much emphasis on the sideline action between candidates, rather than the issues being discussed.

Regardless, the problem is the same. Too much time and effort is being spent riding doomed efforts down in flames to score points. Politicians will push bills to a vote that have no chance of being passed, solely to cast their opponents as the bad player. Meanwhile, agendas that have a real chance of advancement are being ignored to deny a win to the other side.

Usually, even when there’s a compromise, one side will “lose.” They picked the wrong fight, or they just didn’t have as much leverage as the other side, so they get comparatively less from the deal. That’s a fact of life, not just politics. However, that fact has become unacceptable for politicians, because it would mean that they lost fair and square and that’s somehow frightening. So instead, any opportunity to get something done where a player of the other team might come out ahead is ignored. Because it’s all about winning now.

Political parties don’t die when
they stop winning. They die because their core message becomes irrelevant to
the evolving political landscape. That’s happening right now, because the
messages of our political parties are taking a backseat to the spectacle of
their conflict. While the game is fun to watch from the stands, it’s hard to care about its outcome when both
sides have become the “evil sports team.”

Randall Hellmer is a senior in journalism and mass communications.