Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things

Monday, May 7, 2007

Bipartisan governing

John Quiggin over at Crooked Timber has an interesting addition to the many reviews* of Jonathan Chait's long article on the liberal netroots. He claims that
the real political news of the last six months is the fact that the US now has a standard two-party system, arguably for the first time in its history. From Reconstruction until the final success of Nixon’s Southern strategy in the late 20th century, the fact that the Democratic Party represented the white establishment in the South made such a thing impossible. Under the primary system the two “parties” were little more than state-sanctioned institutional structures to ensure that voters (outside the South) got a choice of exactly two candidates.
Thus the liberal blogosphere's rise stems not only from the Bush presidency (and its incompetencies), but also more generally from the Democratic Party losing most of the south during the nineties. I find this analysis encouraging as it suggests that the progressive elements of the blogosphere will continue to an important role beyond 2008.

However, I am not completely convinced by Quiggins argument. The U.S. form of government, especially when compared to parliamentary systems, has some innate conservative (in the broad sense) elements that make it difficult to institute major changes. Thus, I suspect that U.S. politicians have more incentive towards bipartisanship, not just from the media, but than the European parties he compares them with. We have gotten very used to split governements (again a reason why Bush came as such a shock to many.

What will be interesting to see is how the highly partisan netroots responds to a Democratically-controlled government. Will they continue to cultivate a combative approach to politics directed at the Republicans or will they shift towards a more positive (although not necessarily better) message about what the government should do. In other words, is the netroots suspicious of politicians or Republicans? I hope it is the latter.

I think my appreciation of partisan politics is as major as any change in my political thinking over the last seven years, and suspect that change is reflective of society at large. In 2000 I voted by drawing up a list of about fifteen things I cared about and then ranking the three candidates in relation to each item. One of the most weighted categories was bi-partisanship, and to admit how really clueless I was, Bush ranked very high in this category, higher than the other two candidates.

Looking back, I realize that the reason I could give Bush such high points for this is that, especially after eight years of Clinton, I expected the Democrats to govern by consensus, and so it meant little for a Democrat candidate to be willing to govern in a bi-partisan manner. My thought was that the Democratic party will of course be willing to compromise, but that the Republican party might remain recalcitrant. Thus, to have the Republican candidate campaign at least partially on his record of non-partisan governership in Texas was a strong positive in my evaluation of Bush.

*I have little to add in response to Chait's article, except to say that I agree with most of his substantive points but find his semi-mocking tone unfair. I also think the response to his article is a good example of one of the positives of the liberal blogosphere. If Chait had written this article about something else back in the eighties, I don't think it would have gotten nearly so much interesting and informative responses that were easily accesible by the public.

No comments: