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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

 
American Parliament

by digby

James Fallows has written a post called "why bipartisanship can't work" that should be required reading for every political pundit and every reporter and editor. I don't know why this isn't common knowledge either, but it isn't and it takes someone of Fallows' stature to penetrate the media establishment.

This is just an excerpt, which features an email sent to him from a political friend. I urge you to read the whole thing and pass it around:

"Bipartisanship in the American sense means compromising on legislation so that a sufficient number of members of Congress from BOTH parties will support it, even if (as is typically the case) a few majority party members defect and most minority party members don't join.  Bipartisanship consists of getting ENOUGH members of the minority party to join the (incomplete) majority in voting for major legislation.  It can't happen if the minority party members vote as a block against major legislation.  And that can happen only if the minority party has the ability to discipline its ranks so that none join the majority, which is the unprecedented situation we've got in Congress today.

"The way parliamentary parties maintain their discipline is straightforward.  No candidate can run for office using the party label unless the party bestows that label upon him or her.  And usually, the party itself and not the candidate raises and controls all the campaign funds.  As every political scientist knows, the fact that in the U.S. any candidate can pick his or her own party label without needing anyone else's approval, and can also raise his or her own campaign funds, is why there cannot be and never really has been any sustained party discipline before -- even though it is a feature of parliamentary systems.

"The GOP now maintains party discipline by the equivalent of a parliamentary party's tools:  The GOP can effectively deny a candidate the party label (by running a more conservative GOP candidate against him or her), and the GOP can also provide the needed funds to the candidate of the party's choice.  And every GOP member of Congress knows it.  (Snowe and Collins may be immune, but that's about it.)

"I've missed almost all the punditry this past week... but what I've seen seems almost like a lot of misleading fluff designed to fill the void that should follow an understanding of the foregoing, at least on the subject of 'why no bipartisanship?'  There's really nothing more to be said about "why no bipartisanship," once one recognizes the GOP party discipline.  On this issue, it's absolutely astounding to blame Obama or even the Congressional leadership (although Pelosi and Reid leave much to be desired otherwise).  It's doubly astounding that the GOP did it once before, less perfectly, but with a very large reward for bad behavior in the form of the 1994 mid-term elections.  Yet no one calls them on it effectively, and bad behavior seems about to be rewarded again...

A lot of this could be fixed if we did one little thing: eliminate the filibuster. That one supermajority requirement makes it impossible for our two party system to function under conditions such as this. Obviously, the Republicans have no need to eliminate it because they have achieved this party discipline while the Democrats, also obviously, have not. (And frankly, I'm not sure we should want them to, considering that their policies would be very unlikely to be progressive if they did.)

The administration  has constructed a strategy to, I don't know, shame the Republicans into breaking with their party? Can it work? Maybe.  But I maintain the the most useful aspect of that strategy is that it could actually inform the people of the differences between the far right policies of the Republicans and the merely centrist policies of the Democrats. (At this point, I would consider it a victory if the people knew that the wingnuts' plans were as reasonable as a bunch of terrorist demands.) Actually getting Republican support is impossible, IMO.

But as long as the Republicans get rewarded for this behavior --- and I see a very grave danger that they will succeed in portraying Obama as a failure for being unable to compromise enough to "bring them over" (and there is no compromise that can bring them over)--- this will continue.

Update: This post by Meteor Blades illustrates in living color how this works in practice.

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