Get Used to Partisanship

Aug 30 '10

Gary Andres has a “nice piece”:http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/partisanship-here-stay in the Weekly Standard that discusses two new books about parties and partisanship in American politics: Sean Theriault’s “Party Polarization in Congress”:http://www.amazon.com/Party-Polarization-Congress-Sean-Theriault/dp/052171768X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1283172601&sr=8-1 and Matthew Levendusky’s “The Partisan Sort”:http://www.amazon.com/Partisan-Sort-Democrats-Conservatives-Republicans/dp/0226473651/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1283172620&sr=1-1.

Levendusky describes the process by which partisanship and ideology became increasingly aligned in the public. Interestingly, it stems more from partisans changing their ideologies than ideologues changing their partisanship. Theriault carries this story into Congress itself, noting how party leaders increasingly use procedural devices to deliver the legislative victories that their fellow partisans (and activists back in their districts and states) desire.

Andres’s bottom line:

bq. Some think the November elections might produce more bipartisan harmony. Political forecasters predict Republican gains in the November elections. Won’t more parity between the parties forces the two sides to get along? Probably not. Understanding the roots of today’s polarized landscape explains why partisanship won’t be unearthed anytime soon.

I agree. When I read Mark Halperin yearning for bipartisanship, my reaction was to agree with “Seth Masket”:http://enikrising.blogspot.com/2010/08/shedding-tear-for-bipartisanship.html. It’s not that bipartisanship is undesirable — although perhaps highly overrated — it’s just that we shouldn’t expect partisanship to dissipate into the ether, for precisely the reasons that Levendusky and Theriault describe.

Seth calls Halperin’s view a “Beltway fantasy.” To me, Halperin — and, similarly, “David Broder”:https://themonkeycage.local/2010/08/david_broder_and_the_mystical.html — are political romantics: they proffer this idealized vision of politics that does not betray any real understanding of why politics is what it is, how we got here, what leaders’ incentives are, and what reforms might change those incentives. I’ve always found it odd that two veteran reporters would have romantic tendencies. You’d figure that after these many years or even decades they’d be pretty clear-eyed and even cynical about political leaders.