Labeling: a thought experiment

A thought experiment:

We frequently hear that the dysfunction in the US government is due to extreme partisanship. The few times our elected officials actually work with members of differing parties are hailed as wonderful examples of bipartisanship, rather than simply government as it ought to be.

But how much of that dysfunction, or that outright enmity, is a result of the team colors they all wear for no good reason?

Every time we report on those elected officials, whether on television or in print, it takes the form of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) or Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senator John Tyler (W-VA) or Representative John Quincy Adams (D-R – MA). What if we dropped that letter before the state appellation? What if we didn’t bother listing the political party? Does it really matter to us in the news report? Don’t we already know which party they belong to? And if we don’t, does knowing it change our view of the news being reported, of the things being said?

The Super Bowl is a similar label. The owners of that name want the news to report on it as if it were news, but they want entertainment to pay them for the rights to even say it out loud. Perhaps it’s time we started viewing political parties the same way. After all, they’ve paid for their members’ careers, so why should we be giving them free advertising?

Gratuitous George Washington quote on political parties: “Political parties may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

2 thoughts on “Labeling: a thought experiment

  1. I’m not sure what that would achieve, since the citizenry would not be prohibited from asking, “What political party do you belong to?” If a citizen does ask that question in an open forum, attended by the news media, as broadly or narrowly as you want to define news media, would the media be prohibited from reporting their answer? What if a citizen asks the question and the candidate refuses to answer? Would the citizen be in the wrong and the candidate be in the right?

    I fear I may have slippery sloped into the realm of Swiftian “modest proposals.”


  2. No, I’m not suggesting banning party labels. I’m just talking about de-emphasizing them. In the ideal case, our elected officials would actually do what they say they’re going to do: represent all the people, not only those who voted for them. If Chuck Schumer is representing every New Yorker, or Mitch McConnell is representing every Kentuckian, then what’s the purpose of listing their political party affiliation when we talk about them?


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