Good cop/bad cop politics

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Good cop/bad cop politics is a hypothesized behavior of politicians in ostensibly opposing parties. It is named after the good cop/bad cop interrogation technique.

It is carried out as follows:

  • Politicians in the "bad cop" party are consistently dishonest and do a terrible job at governing, but are able to remain in power through keeping their malfeasances subtle enough to evade the notice of many voters, while using their ill-gotten gains on paid publicity to help maintain the appearance of good job performance.
  • Politicians in the "good cop" party consistently play lip-service towards supporting needed legislation, but always manage to somehow undermine legislation with any potential for real change.

This effectively prevents a third party from having a chance, as a rational voter will recognize the threat posed by allowing the "bad cop" politicians to gain too much power, while less-rational and more easily-manipulated voters will believe the lies and manipulations of the "bad cop" politicians, allowing them to remain electable.

United States

In the United States, the Republican Party plays the "bad cop" with its absurd and destructive vendettas against gay marriage, immigration, science, environmentalism, and other causes which would be uncontroversial in a rational society.

The Democrats, meanwhile, play the "good cop" by tending to support good legislation (which the Republicans oppose) and to work against bad legislation (sponsored and supported by Republicans) -- while deeply in the pocket of large corporate interests, and working more subtly to support these interests over the interests of their constituents. (For all their anti-Democrat sentiment, the Republicans almost never make believable arguments for this essential truth -- fielding only the most ridiculous and disjointed rants against Democrats and liberal causes, thus allowing Democratic supporters to continue thinking that the best case against the Democratic Party is no case at all).

This isn't to say that a rational, well-informed voter wouldn't care which party was in power; the policies of the Republicans are clearly more toxic and damaging in the short term, and they are no less in the pocket of corporate interests than the Democrats. The point of the "good cop-bad cop" setup is that it allows both parties to be corrupt while preventing a third party from gaining power.


It is possible (though evidence is so far only circumstantial) that the Islamic cultural invasion in Europe is largely the result of good cop-bad cop political maneuvering. The "liberal" wing uses multiculturalism, tolerance, and other liberal tropes as an excuse to "cave in" to intolerant Muslim "demands" (which may in fact pose very little threat) which result in reduced freedom for others, while the "conservative" wing uses these actions to demonize both liberals and Muslims.

Given that the Conservative wing in Europe isn't as obviously evil as the US Republican Party, it's not clear if this dynamic would work. The recent formation of a coalition government in the UK may be a sign that this was attempted, and failed -- or it may be completely unrelated.




  • 2012-03-31 Ted Rall makes a nice analogy