Monday, March 24, 2008

The case for polarization

Kudos to Matt Yglesias for making this case so clearly. It's a wonderful read. I'll be using it in my parties class in the future.

Yglesias does a great job talking about the advantages of strong, distinct political parties. But what he also ads to the mix is an explanation of why journalists and lobbyists are always complaining about partisanship and pining for the days of cross-party friendships:

From a journalistic point of view, the resulting system is tragically dull. Legislative outcomes become a simple matter of vote-counting: either a party has a majority or it doesn’t. There’s little room for journalistic sleuthing, and what stories there are to tell lack the color and drama of, say, Charlie Wilson’s War, in which an extremely hawkish Democratic congressman was able to persuade his party’s leadership to back a massive covert war in Afghanistan.

For veteran Washington hands—wheelers and dealers in the lobbying game or at the major interest groups—the new system is worse than dull. It’s emasculating. This is why political elites find polarization so distasteful. In a polarized world, elections and procedural rules largely determine policy outcomes; there’s little room for self-styled players to construct coalitions on the fly, and enhance their own power in the process. The growth in the lobbying industry might seem to belie the point, but consider Tom DeLay’s post-1994 “K Street Project”—which pressured lobbying firms who wanted access on the Hill to hire more Republicans—or the swing of the pendulum back after the Democratic takeover in 2006. Power in Congress is firmly in the hands of the party leadership; lobbyists become less powerful, not more, in a polarized system.

And then he gets in the kicker:
But for voters, the boring new ways can be looked at in another way—they’re straightforward. Elections have a predictable and easy-to-understand relationship to government action. Electing a Democrat means, on the margin, more spending on the federal safety net and more government regulation, while electing a Republican produces policies more favorable to business interests. You don’t necessarily get everything you want (ask any liberal disappointed by the continued flow of funds for the Iraq War), but at least on domestic measures, things move predictably.
To review: parties are good for voters and bad for lobbyists and David Broder. Anyone want to put this to a vote?

No comments: