Politics refers the competition of methods and ideas surrounding the process of making decisions within any organizational structure. While the term can be accurately applied to situations such as office politics or the politics of social groups, it generally refers to decision making and legislation at the governmental level. This state of competition among voters and decision makers has a number of advantages, but is not without its disadvantages.
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In a ruling environment without competing political factions, the ruling party simply does as it pleases. While this might be efficient, it means that segments of the population that disagree with how the government is governing have no legal recourse within the governing system. Dissenting political parties force compromise on issues of government through a peaceful governmental process. By providing a venue for political competition within government, it prevents citizens from having no alternative to governing ideas they disagree with but potentially violent competition outside of government.
While a government composed of individuals who all agree with each other may be a harmonious, it suffers from a lack of intellectual dynamism. When politicians have differing ideas on how things should be done, the result is ideally a debate that explores these ideas: Would they work? Which one would be more effective? What would the consequences be? Since few individuals are blessed with perfect insight into all things, these debates can result in both sides refining and improving their ideas on how things should be done.
While a political environment can produce high-minded competition of ideas and compromises that ensure legislation reflects the views of all citizens at its best, it can produce utter dysfunction at its worst. Compromise and debate can only work if politicians who disagree with one another are willing to listen to one another, and accept that there can be merit in what their opponents have to say. If dissenting politicians believe that they are right, the opposition is wrong, and that compromise is not an option then the result will be the mechanism of government coming to a grinding halt.
The English politican Edmund Burke once wrote, "A politician owes the people not only his industry but his judgment." In a Republican government, of which form most democratic societies take, people vote for a representative whose opinions align with their own. This way they have a voice through someone whose full-time job is concerning himself with the machinations of government. However, when political careerism, the desire to simply stay in power, meets charged political environments, the result is politicians whose stances are not dictated by what they believe. Rather, they end up being dictated by what they believe the voters want to hear that they believe. This leads to a caricature of politicians as individuals who simply say whatever they need to in order to get elected. This caricature, in turn, can lead to a cynicism on the part of voters that degrades their sense of civic duty and participation.
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- Pew Research Center; Broad Support for Political Compromise in Washington; January 2007
- "Reason Magazine"; Print|Email Political Discourse and the Tucson Shootings; Cathy Young; January 2011
- "NPR"; Calif. Gov. Brown Hopes to Break Partisan Gridlock; John Myers; May 2011