One could easily argue that the reason to have a party platform is to have everyone of a similar political persuasion loyally support the same planks and policies.  The Bonneville County Republican Party has made headlines trying to enforce their platform to an extreme extent, even holding private tribunals of certain legislators who have deviated from what these leaders consider the party norms and ideology.

Idaho Democrats tend to view their own platform as a set of well-researched policies and principles rather than an enforceable mandate for those who serve with a “D” after their name.  Thankfully, our party tends to value independent thought and constructive dialogue above “toeing the line.” 

It is a good thing that Idaho Democrats are wary of “groupthink” as such behavior has caused numerous disasters in our country and modern world.  Many point to the Challenger disaster back in 1986 when the Thiokol engineers who designed and built the rocket boosters warned that the temperature for the day of the launch could result in total failure of the vehicles and deaths of the crew. Studies have shown that many NASA personnel failed to express their doubts about the launch and instead aligned with higher-ups who, for publicity reasons, were pressing to stay on the original schedule.

Another, more contemporary example of groupthink is our current situation with states dictating access to abortion and women’s reproductive care.  There are multiple physical, emotional and spiritual factors impinging on individual decisions with respect to a woman’s pregnancy, and the least suitable places for such decisions are fifty separate state legislatures plus the District of Columbia.  However, groupthink has been on display throughout 60+ years of abortion controversy, and the consequences are unnerving.

I rather like the Wikipedia definition of “groupthink” as well as psychologist Irving Janis’ eight symptoms that make groupthink more testable.

From Wikipedia:

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Cohesiveness, or the desire for cohesiveness, in a group may produce a tendency among its members to agree at all costs. This causes the group to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation.

We can all benefit from introspection, so I like to use Janis to evaluate my own tendencies.

  • Illusions of invulnerability
  • Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group
  • Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions
  • Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid
  • Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus
  • Illusions of unanimity among group members; silence is viewed as agreement
  • Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”
  • Mindguards— self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information

Which political party do you feel most exhibits these symptoms?

Jan Brown is a retired nonprofit executive who is State Committeewoman for the Bonneville County Democrats and Region 7 Representative on the Idaho Democratic Party Executive Committee.