The evils of partisanship

Matt Yglesias has made this point a few times before, and I think it’s worth noting, and remembering when we hear people use “partisan” as a synonym for “bad” (and “bipartisan” for “good”).

More broadly, though, it’s unfair to Bush to blame him for the lack of the sort of “bipartisan cooperation” we saw in the past, and it’s equally unfair to blame Democrats for not reviving it. Bipartisan competition will tend to be rarer when the parties are ideologically coherent. And that’s what we have right now — almost every Democrat in congress is more liberal than almost every Republican. That makes bipartisan cooperation difficult. The roots of this polarization, however, are structural and not really lamentable. The old era of bipartisan cooperation was grounded in the parties having substantial ideological overlap and that, in turn, was a consequence of Jim Crow and the existence of a weird one-party state in the apartheid South where the one party was the Democrats even though the region was generally more conservative in ideological terms. That era’s not going to come back and we shouldn’t want it to come back, even if we deem certain aspects of its passing to be lamentable.

But most of all, we shouldn’t urge the congress to take courses of action that are wrong on the merits out of a deluded sense that doing so might revive a past era of bipartisanship.

Building from there, I’ll just say that I wish Democrats would be a little less obsessed with coming across as bipartisan, and would actually make a public case for why voting for Democrats is better for the country than voting for Republicans.  In other words, why are they Democrats instead of Republicans, and what does that tell us about how they’ll do their jobs?  I already know Republicans believe that voting for Republicans is better, because they keep telling us so, and keep telling us why (low taxes, strong defense, yay Christianity).  It seems to me that Democrats usually make their criticisms situational – they’ll tell us why the other side’s policies are wrong or character is suspect, but they never turn that into a broader ideological argument.  If properly done, expressions of partisanship give the impression that you know what you stand for, and you believe in your platform.  Republicans know this, and win elections because of it, and I wish the Democrats would figure it out, and start acting like they believe they’re right, instead of coming across as wishy-washy chumps all the time.

3 thoughts on “The evils of partisanship

  1. Ananth

    Maybe they wouldn’t come across as wishy washy chumps if they weren’t wishy washy chumps :)

    I have some thoughts on this, but it’s late. So I will take my softball set up, and write more tomorrow…

  2. Steve

    Maybe they wouldn’t come across as wishy washy chumps if they weren’t wishy washy chumps :)

    Most definitely. I get the impression that they don’t extol or defend liberal Democratic ideology because they don’t actually really believe in it.

  3. Ananth

    Sorry for the delay, I know you were waiting with baited breath!

    Anyway, my first thought is that on what I would consider some of the core liberal democratic ideology, the counter arguments bring things out that aren’t very pretty.

    I would say that the right to choose is a core liberal democratic principles, which is perhaps the most main stream of their ideologies. The problem with shouting out we’re pro choice is what the choices are, which invariably makes people think of abortion, and regardless one position on it’s legality, at the very least should make one a little uncomfortable. Other things which are even less mainstream such affirmative action have a much a powerful counter argument (ie the only way for race not to matter is for race not to matter). Where as the counter argument for low taxes is let the rich pay their fair share, which is not as powerful.

    Another part of it is perhaps Democrats inflated sense of intelligence, and that trying to appear more nuanced is sign of superior reasoning.

    Finally, I would like to get your idea of what those democratic principles that should be extoleld should be.

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