What Doesn’t Gail Collins Understand about Party Unity?

by John Sides on April 29, 2009 · 5 comments

in Legislative Politics

partyunity.png

Via Ezra Klein, I see that Gail Collins wrote the following:

Everybody knows, of course, that even when Al Franken finally makes it to Washington, getting all 60 Democrats-and-fellow-travelers to vote together on something will be like herding … something really impossible. Not cats. Cats I could envision all going in one direction if there was a little herring-flavored incentive at the end of the line. Herding rabid guinea pigs in a thunderstorm, maybe.

And this:

It would be nice to think that would open the door to a period of self-imposed discipline and real progressive policymaking. However, I have to admit the more likely scenario is that the rabid guinea pigs take over the world.

Ha ha! I guess guinea pigs don’t like herring. Or something.

I’ve said this before. I’ll say it again. In fact, I’ll shout it. THE PARTIES HAVE BECOME MORE UNIFIED. LOOK AT THE GRAPH, GAIL COLLINS.

Why? Because it’s easy to be unified when everyone agrees. And the parties have become more ideologically homogeneous and polarized in recent decades—even after the election of all those pesky Blue Dogs in 2006. See Nolan McCarty’s post.

Here are the 2006 and 2007 party unity data, courtesy of CQ. What percentage of the time did Ben Nelson vote with the Democrats in 2007? 70%. Evan Bayh? 79%. Joe Lieberman? 81%. And these guys are rabid guinea pigs? In a thunderstorm?

Indeed, it’s the Republicans who had more problem with disunity in 2007. Susan Collins: 50%. Olympia Snowe: 44%. Specter himself: 49%. In fact, there were 7 Republicans less loyal to their party than Ben Nelson was to the Democrats.

Does this mean that the party unity doesn’t take some degree of negotiation and compromise? Of course it does. But we should start the debate with the presumption that the parties, and particularly the Democrats, are successful at doing this.

Gail Collins, the graph above comes from an introductory textbook to American politics. Maybe I can get you a copy for free.

{ 4 comments }

Chris Hanretty April 29, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Of course, if she were European, and/or writing for a European audience, this would be a necessary introduction to the fineries of the American legislative process, where one actually has to calculate indices of voting cohesion, instead of just assuming they’re as close to 100% as makes no damn difference.

But, um, she’s not.

wagonjak April 29, 2009 at 3:43 pm

I’ve see this story about Collin’s column elsewhere, and wondered if other people caught the loaded phrase “fellow traveler”…a term applied to people who were thought to be sympathetic to Communists in the US during the McCarthy era…

wagonjak April 29, 2009 at 3:46 pm

I’ve see this story about Collin’s column elsewhere, and wondered if other people caught the loaded phrase “fellow traveler”…a term applied to people who were thought to be sympathetic to Communists in the US during the McCarthy era…

frannie April 30, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Despite rising party unity among Democrats, I think Obama has plenty to worry about in holding the caucus together. It’s been relatively easy for Democrats to hold together to oppose the Bush administration. But I need to seem them actually legislate successfully before I’m confident that their unity goes more than skin deep. Let’s see them actually accomplish something, take some tough votes that actually affect some major interests in American society (Pharma, oil, Wall Street). Until then, I’m personally very skeptical that there really is great ideological homogeneity in the Democratic party in Congress.

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