Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Only Problem in American Politics Is the Republican Party

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

Political scientist Lee Drutman argues in a Vox essay that American politics is descending into what he calls “doom-loop partisanship.” Drutman notes that Americans have been “retreating into our separate tribal epistemologies, each with their own increasingly incompatible set of facts and first premises,” each heavily racialized, in which “[t]here’s no possibility for rational debate or middle-ground compromise. Just two sorted teams, with no overlap, no cross-cutting identities, and with everyone’s personal sense of status constantly on the line.”

Drutman attributes this to winner-take-all elections, the expanding power of the presidency, and the growing influence of money in politics. I think, despite all the very real design flaws in American politics, the problems he describe stem mainly from the pathologies of the Republican Party.

It is certainly true that the psychological relationship between the parties has a certain symmetry. Both fear each other will cheat to win and use their power to stack the voting deck. “If Republicans win in close elections, Democrats say it’s only because they cheated by making it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote; if Democrats win in close elections, Republicans say it’s only because they voted illegally.” But while it is nottrue that Democrats have allowed illegal voting in nontrivial levels, it isextremely true that Republicans have deliberately made voting inconvenient for Democratic-leaning constituencies. The psychology is parallel, but the underlying facts are not.

Likewise, there is a superficial similarity to the terror with which partisans now greet governments controlled by the opposing party. Obama’s presidency made Republicans terrified of rampant socialism and vengeful minority rule. (Rush Limbaugh in 2009 instructed his audience, “In Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering ‘Yeah, right on, right on, right on.’ Of course everybody said the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white.”) Trump’s presidency has inspired a similar terror among liberals terrified that Trump would take their insurance and deport immigrants.

Liberal fears have had a much closer relationship to reality. The reason is that the Democratic Party is racially and economically heterogeneous. Even if he had wanted to take vengeance upon white America for its sins, Obama had far too many white supporters to make such a course of action remotely practical. (A majority of Obama’s voters were white, in fact.) On economic issues, the Democratic Party relies on support and input from business and labor alike. Whatever terrors of rampant Jacobinism may have gripped the economic elite, there are limits to the fiscal and regulatory pain Democrats can impose on a constituency that has a seat at the table (many seats, actually).

There is little such balance to be found in the Republican Party. Republicans concerned about their party’s future may blanch at Trump’s pardoning of the sadistic racist Joe Arpaio or his gleeful unleashing of law enforcement. In the short term, however, they have bottomed out on their minority support and proven able to win national power regardless, by using racial wedge issues to pry away blue-collar whites. Advocates for labor or the poor have no voice whatsoever in the Republican elite. It took a massive national mobilization to narrowly dissuade the party from snatching health insurance away from millions of people too poor or sick to afford it.

Then of course there are the competing tribal epistemologies. There is nothing on the left with the reach and scope of the conservative media universe defined by talk radio, Fox News, and other outlets that have functioned as state media. Certainly pockets of epistemological closure exist, especially in the way social media has allowed curated media streams that exclusively cater to one’s prejudices. But the fact is that the Democratic Party is fundamentally accountable to the mainstream news media. And that media play try to follow rules of objectivity that the right-wing alternative media does not bother with.

The most striking revelation in Devil’s Bargain, Josh Green’s account of the rise of Steve Bannon, is that Bannon understood both the importance and the permeability of the mainstream news media to his ideas and messaging. Bannon knew that the right kind of research could influence the New York Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton, and thereby deeply shape the views of Democratic voters.

Whether or not the Times was correct to use this research, and whether or not it treated Clinton fairly overall, is not the point. What matters is that Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing — and arguably eager — to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have have its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way — see the Times’ disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party’s interests — its errors all run in the same direction. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2017 at 1:33 pm

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