June 5, 2014

How Brett Favre Teaches Us About Politics

I decided to go back through my social media feeds for mentions of recently released Taliban prisoner Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. My N=1 findings match those of this Vox piece regarding the about-face done by many of Bergdahl’s fiercest advocates.

It may be an excellent example of cognitive dissonance and balance seeking at work. This is something we all can catch ourselves in. Or, as I call it, the Brett Favre problem.

Yes, this guy teaches us about politics.

The “Brett Favre” problem:
  1. Packers fans love Favre.
  2. Favre joins the hated Vikings.
  3. Packers fans need balance. 

Packers fans are now left with a couple of choices. They can change their minds about Favre. They can change their minds about the Vikings. Or, they can rationalize their feelings away. 
Most Packers fans became strong supporters of the new star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.

My problem is imperfect next to the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance, but it captures two things well. First, my problem is out of date. Living in Indiana, I should probably call it the Peyton Manning problem. Many Colts fans appear to have followed Manning to a new Broncos loyalty, while others cheered like mad as the Colts beat Manning’s Broncos last year.

More importantly, it illustrates that what really motivates some observers of sports (a substitute for politics) is not that there is any deep connection on an issue, but rather the real concern of the individual is to embrace things that fit with their opposition to a political party or person.

As the Vox piece pointed out, as did my social media feeds, it was largely conservatives who were raising the issue of Bergdahl over the past couple of years. Now that there is genuine controversy associated with his release in exchange for five Taliban prisoners, former advocates have now changed their views, or simply stopped bringing focus to the issue. Several politicians have had to delete Twitter posts or otherwise backtrack about the situation because the real goal of many, though not all of those involved, is to gain partisan advantage.

The Bergdahl problem:
  1. Obama's political opponents call for Bergdahl’s negotiated release.
  2. Obama negotiates release.
  3. Obama’s opponents need balance.
Democrats can fall into the exact same pattern. Consider this balance problem:
  1. Liberals don’t like Bush’s foreign policy on drone strikes.
  2. Obama continues Bush’s policy. 
  3. Liberals need balance.
The bottom line is that we all have these tendencies to want balance. I know the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs has had me fretting over my opinions of leadership there. I have to check myself before (and after) reacting to the various reports. 

We want balance, and have to consciously overcome our own biases to analyze political situations well. Perhaps if we keep this in mind we can be less judgmental of our political opponents. 

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mike MorbeckCreative Commons licensed.

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