People are really, really bad at combining decades worth of information into a coherent package. But there are very good reasons why this should be so. Even if you read the news, who has the time, patience, expertise, or understanding to place the housing industry, China, crime, education, the EU, intrusive technology, the space program, copyright, or the ten million other gigantic issues into proper perspective. What almost everybody does on almost every subject is latch on to a few cases and use those as surrogates for the whole.
So when people think about parties, what overwhelmingly happens is that they remember that he was a crook and she was an idiot and he showed his penis and she hated minorities. They couldn’t answer any questions about the legislation they sponsored, the bills they voted for, the earmarks they put in, the campaign ads they ran. And neither could I, even though I’m supposedly someone who follows politics more closely than the average.
I used to be outraged that people took one popularized element and hung it on a politician forever. Dan Quayle couldn’t spell. Sarah Palin didn’t read. Dukakis rode in a tank with a funny helmet. John Kerry windsurfed. I finally realized that these were shorthand, tags just like the ones that people put on Facebook or message boards. They were reminders that they didn’t like someone for some general reason that they no longer needed to keep straight and detailed in their head. It wasn’t irrational behavior; it was actually rational and time-saving.
That’s a generality. Sometimes the tag is a deliberate attack. Even then, the same principle is at play. “Obama is a Muslin.” He’s not and virtually everybody who spreads it knows it’s a lie. But it’s a tag of his being different, oddly named, unusual background, not like “us.” Foul as it it, the Muslim slur wouldn’t have gained traction if it didn’t represent a truth in the user’s minds. “Obama is a Martian” is equally ridiculous and similarly alien, but you can’t imagine even Freepers making it a meme.
I think the OP is right when saying that “both sides are bad” is a justification for supporting one’s own side even when they do bad things. We live in a perpetual attack culture today. Bad things are the only things ever reported. If you couldn’t justify that, you’d have to join the 40% who’ve dropped out of the process, and most people do pride themselves on voting, on not being one of the dropouts. This is a rational way of doing so, even if the end result appears irrational. A lot of life is like that. If you can’t accept that you have to drop out of life. We see some of those people here and they’re truly frightening.
Think of it as a white lie. It smooths interactions between people. You just have to be careful to keep the lies white.