02/06/2012 05:15 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2012

Blind Allegiance Is Good for Sports, Bad for Political Debate

I have been a San Francisco Giants baseball fan since 1965, which means my allegiance began before any player who wears the black and orange today was born. Another way to put it: I'm rooting for the uniform.

Such support is acceptable for sports -- the etymology of the word fan is a shortened version of fanatic -- but it is inadequate when such support is used to determine one's political allegiance.

The cable news shows that we watch, the radio stations to which we listen, the websites we visit, and the columnists we read too often are designed to merely validate our preconceived notions.

It is comforting perhaps, but it is hardly a process that produces a more informed citizenry.

The notion that former House Speaker and current Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich ought to receive the nomination because he can best debate President Barack Obama is a shortsighted analysis vacuous of history.

When was a presidential election decided by who actually won the debate? There have been memorable debate faux pas (see Michael Dukakis in 1988, George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Al Gore in 2000) but rarely has a presidential victory been the result of an outright debate winner.

Moreover, such thinking assumes the presidential debate between the eventual Republican nominee and the president will be reminiscent of the raucous infomercial/reality TV format that has been the hallmark of the myriad GOP primary debates thus far.

The real danger in this fanatical allegiance by both sides is its inability to examine itself. It is much easier to define the party in opposition (the way that I as a Giants fan view the Dodgers) by the straw man we've constructed because it neatly fits into our stereotypes and does not challenge our thinking.

I remain one of those who think the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which held that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions, is detrimental to our democracy. Those sentiments matter little if the only time Citizens United is problematic is when it is used against someone we support.

Though it may be unrealistic to hope that each member of society can set aside his or her interests and see and understand the interests of others, it is equally shortsighted to define that which we may not understand by its worst characteristics.

Does the racist antics of a few mean the tea party movement is racist as a whole? Should Occupy Wall Street efforts be defined solely by last week's outburst in Oakland?

By reaching such conclusions, not only do we minimize that which we do not understand, but we also isolate ourselves in a cocoon of our own unchallenged assumptions.

Every four years, we are told that this particular election is the most important in our lifetime. The statement is made almost as if to suggest that by voting for the wrong person the republic will be irretrievably doomed.

There have been more mediocre to bad presidents than good to great ones. America has experienced its share of tragedies, one that almost tore the nation asunder.

The nation's survival is more a testament to the republic's elasticity than to the individuals who temporarily occupied the presidency.

However, our public discourse remains hamstrung by each of our political parties portraying itself as the sole possessor of all truth.

The cacophony that drives the debate in the public square makes cheering for candidates synonymous with our support for our favorite sports teams.

It may work for our sports allegiances, but it is dreadfully inadequate for maintaining an informed citizenry and healthy public debate.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of the Forthcoming book: '1963: The of Hope and Hostility.' Email him at or visit the website