Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hyper-Partisanship and the Weakening of Democracy

Charlie Cook at National Journal offers some great reasons for redistricting reform. From Cook: "When I first came to Washington in September 1972, Congress abounded with conservative and moderate Democrats, as well as liberal and moderate Republicans. These lawmakers provided the ballast that prevented their parties from going to extremes. They kept the Democrats from driving into the ditch on the left and steered Republicans away from the one on the right."

The lost center in American politics is poisoning our system and weakening our democracy. It turns legislating into a winner take all war rather than the exercise in compromise that our framers intended. When our representatives engage in this brand of politics it discourages moderate voters and emboldens partisan voters - the result being an even more partisan Congress. As Congress becomes so hyper partisan normal rules of procedures are ignored and bypassed. Sarah Binder and Michael Mann at Brookings have a great review of the 110 Congress and show that the use of restrictive rules of debate and amendment in the House, bypassing the normal committee process in the House and Senate, and simply ignoring the Conference process have become the norm. The practices were begun by the Republicans in 1995 and have only gotten worse.

These abuses of process reduce the minority party to a non-entity with little recourse but to serve as an obstructive force. The result is a zero sum game politics where each legislative battle is treated like an all out war. These legislative battles then influence the politics of the voting public. Republican and Democratic voters each view the other as a threat, one that cannot be tolerated, can never be accepted as legitimate. Anger and hate naturally follow. Ends justify the means politics ensue as each side views its policies as superior and noble.

The threat by the Democrats to use reconciliation to pass health care reform is just one more example of our poisoned politics. I have taken serious flak for my support of Max Baucus and his efforts to forge compromise health reform. To be sure, the Baucus plan is flawed and would not bring the fundamental reform we need. So why do I support it? Because Baucus has demonstrated a clear respect for the process of legislating. He has sought compromise and he is seeking a bill that can pass without bypassing the normal procedures of legislating. Baucus represents a Congress of a bygone age... and the best hope of bringing that Congress back. In the process, he may just save our politics. In the end, that is far more important than any one single piece of legislation.

1 comment:

  1. That last thought is a remarkable one, Dr. Eberly. Thanks for looking at the big picture, it's something I need to start doing more frequently myself.

    -Justin P.