« Failure modes of the United States, part 3 | Main | The decolonization that wasn’t »

February 03, 2010


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The problem, I'm beginning to believe, is twofold: you have only two parties, and uncompetitive corruption. A proper republic needs a multiplicity of parties, and the ability of the executive to bribe enough parties and individual representatives into coalitions and payola. It's worked wonderfully for governability elsewhere (I'm thinking particularly of Lula's alliances, for example).

The one reason that I don't entirely buy the whole party-not-person business is that if this were the case, BHO would not not not have increased troop levels in Afghanistan twice, proposed loans for nuclear power, and similar.

Well, it only really applies to the _Republicans_ so far. The Democratic Party still hasn't established any great level of party discipline (not that they have any clear "party line" to discipline people towards)

Andrew: the key phrase that you missed in the above post was, "for the federal legislature."

Full sentence: "Yet too many Americans persist in believing that the candidate matters in elections for the federal legislature."

Your point refers to the federal executive.

Does that clear it up and move you into agreement, or is there something that I've missed or misinterpreted?

I'll add that I also agree with Bruce's point. Are loans for nuclear power or increased troop strength in Afghanistan against the Democratic Party line? Well, neither is against the party platform.

Moreover, and more relevantly, many rather radical environmentalists support nuclear power despite the fact that it makes no economic sense in the absence of a carbon price, and many rather bleeding-heart foreign-aid pro-multilateral types favor doing everything possible to stabilize the Afghan government.

It is true that the Democrats have much less of a "line" than the GOP. (Although I'd love to know who writes the GOP marching orders; it isn't clear, although the unprecedented unanimity makes it clear that the order are being written by somebody.) I'd bet on that changing over time, especially if the Democrats lose their majorities.

Okay, coming back several weeks later, I think that what you're saying does clear things up a bit. I still think that it might be more accurate to say that the Republican party is in full-on parliamentary mode, while the Democrats are still not quite up to speed on reaching that stage of the evolution of American politics.


That's certainly a possibility; the GOP enforces greater party cohesion, at least in the Senate, so there's less opportunity for lone wolfing like Bayh or Lieberman.

A secondary thing that I've been batting around is the evolution of parties in Nixonland. Part of it is evolution around constituencies after '64 or so, so that the Democratic Chorale is more chaotic than the Republican counterpart, but also the interaction between the formation of party leadership and the way that cable has natioanlized and warped narrative structure and thinking forward; the prepetual defensive crouch of "I'm a liberal don't hurt me" is a consequence of this.

Interestingly, under Noel's theory of Parliamentification, then Bill Frist or Boehner or McConnell need to be better qualities of player than they are; Frist lost out after one term and left his seat, and the maximal party cohesion offered by the 2002-2007 GOP cost them a ton of seats.

Again, toying. More anon.

Responding to this, too, embarassingly late for the same reason:

I think you have a point about the charms of apathy. US punditry goes through a cycle: either they're complaining about how the country is so polarized and partisan (2004, 2008...) or they're complaining about how the country has two nearly-identical parties that never discuss real issues and produce snoozer elections (1996, 2000...)

The potential failure mode here is that the US electorate somehow manages to be both partisan and apathetic at once. An electorate that has very strong (and hostile) feelings, but convinced that nothing ever matters because The Man will rig every election anyway, so why bother. That's worse than being either one on its own.

Or...well, comparisons between the USA and the dying days of the Roman Republic are way over-used, and have been since 1776. But one comparison can be made for this failure mode. What if, like late Rome, a small portion of the electorate is extremely partisan and vicious, but the vast majority says a plague on both your houses and just supports whoever seems more likely to win (and thus, more likely to end the endless political fights that they don't want to hear about any more?)

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