Diversity of Opinion

March 27, 2010

A few months ago I had a conversation with my father in which he lamented the fact that not a single Republican was willing to vote for health care reform. In the old days, he said, you didn’t get such a purely partisan split on every vote, and he was sorry that not a single Republican could find it in his conscience to do the right thing and vote for reform.

Since then, I’ve also read several blog posts and other various debates on whether the Democrats or the Republicans are more tolerant of diversity within the party. Well, as I see it, the whole business of wishing for diversity of opinion in a political party is silly.

Here’s my analogy: imagine cookie manufacturers fighting over who had the most diverse range of quality in their cookies. So Nabisco puts out an ad for Oreos saying, “Most batches of Oreo cookies are delicious. But sometimes, they’re terrible! Buy a bag and hope for one of the good ones!” Doesn’t seem like a very good campaign, does it? Why go to the trouble of establishing a brand name if the brand name doesn’t actually tell your customers anything?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of branding. Branding is important when information is difficult or expensive to acquire. In the real world, that’s always. And it’s definitely true about the things that government does. Recently, Congress passed a health care reform bill, but the vast majority of people have no idea what’s in it. Which makes sense for them. Why would you go to the trouble of reading a 2,000 page document that, as Robert points out, you wouldn’t be able to understand anyway, when reading it would bring you almost no benefit?

Since you can’t or it would be uneconomical to monitor everything your representatives do, voters rely on brand information to make their decisions. Republicans, if they want to win, will take a position that 50% +1 of the voters favor, and then make sure that voters know what position they are taking. Bam. Who knew winning an election was so easy?

Now, the real real world is more complicated, and politicians take a number of different positions on a package of different issues. And if you can do that math in your head and come to the conclusion that it’s actually in the interest of political parties to confuse voters about what positions they take, I’m more than willing to abandon this simple analysis. But if you think that I’m wrong because politics isn’t about winning, then let me suggest that you rethink that position.


One Response to “Diversity of Opinion”

  1. Rrrobert! Says:

    Unity is almost always good for the party. I think your dad is bemoaning the loss of a time (real or imagined) when party loyalties and interests played a smaller role in legislators’ decisions – i.e., they were freer to do the right thing, whatever that was.

    The worry is that the branding actually weeds out superior products as well as inferior ones – that Nabisco is throwing out the samoas in its packages of Oreos. Though a yes on health care might actually better represent, say, the people of Maine, both senators there fear primary challenges from jokers looking to strengthen the brand.

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