Competition In Government
On Tuesday, November 14, 1995, in what has been perceived as the years biggest
non-event, the federal government shut down all "non-essential"
services due to what was, for all intents and purposes, a game of national
"chicken" between the House Speaker and the President. And, at an
estimated cost of 200 million dollars a day, this dubious battle of dueling egos
did not come cheap (Bradsher, 1995, p.16). Why do politicians find it almost
congenitally impossible to cooperate? What is it about politics and power that
seem to always put them at odds with good government? Indeed, is an effective,
well run government even possible given the current adversarial relationship
between our two main political parties? It would seem that the exercise of power
for its own sake, and a competitive situation in which one side must always
oppose the other on any issue, is incompatible with the cooperation and
compromise necessary for the government to function. As the United States
becomes more extreme in its beliefs in general, group polarization and
competition, which requires a mutual exclusivity of goal attainment, will lead
to more "showdown" situations in which the goal of good government
gives way to political posturing and power-mongering. In this paper I will
analyze recent political behavior in terms of two factors: Group behavior with
an emphasis on polarization, and competition. However, one should keep in mind
that these two factors are interrelated. Group polarization tends to exacerbate
inter-group competition by driving any two groups who initially disagree farther
apart in their respective views. In turn, a competitive situation in which one
side must lose in order for the other to win (and political situations are
nearly always competitive), will codify the differences between groups - leading
to further extremism by those seeking power within the group - and thus, to
further group polarization. In the above example, the two main combatants, Bill

Clinton and Newt Gingrich, were virtually forced to take uncompromising,
disparate views because of the very nature of authority within their respective
political groups. Group polarization refers to the tendency of groups to
gravitate to the extreme of whatever opinion the group shares (Baron &

Graziano, 1991, p.498-499). Therefore, if the extreme is seen as a desirable
characteristic, individuals who exhibit extreme beliefs will gain authority
through referent power. In other words, they will have characteristics that
other group members admire and seek to emulate (p. 434). Unfortunately, this
circle of polarization and authority can lead to a bizarre form of "one
upsmanship" in which each group member seeks to gain power and approval by
being more extreme than the others. The end result is extremism in the pursuit
of authority without any regard to the practicality or
"reasonableness" of the beliefs in question. Since the direction of
polarization is currently in opposite directions in our two party system, it is
almost impossible to find a common ground between them. In addition, the
competitive nature of the two party system many times eliminates even the
possibility of compromise since failure usually leads to a devastating loss of
power. If both victory and extremism are necessary to retain power within the
group, and if, as Alfie Kohn (1986) stated in his book No Contest: The Case

Against Competition, competition is "mutually exclusive goal
attainment" (one side must lose in order for the other to win), then
compromise and cooperation are impossible (p. 136). This is especially so if the
opponents are dedicated to retaining power "at all costs." That power
is an end in itself is made clear by the recent shutdown of the government. It
served no logical purpose. Beyond costing a lot of money, it had no discernible
effect except as a power struggle between two political heavyweights. According
to David Kipnis (1976, cited in Baron & Graziano, 1991), one of the negative
effects of power is, in fact, the tendency to regard it as its own end, and to
ignore the possibility of disastrous results from the reckless use of power (p.

433). Therefore, it would seem that (at least in this case) government policy is
created and implemented, not with regard to its effectiveness as government
policy, but only with regard to its value as a tool for accumulating and
maintaining power. Another of Kipnis\'s negative effects of power is the tendency
to use it for selfish purposes (p.433). In politics this can be seen as the
predilection towards making statements for short term political gain that are
either nonsensical or contradictory to past positions held by the candidates
themselves. While this may not be the use of actual power,