Sunday, June 15, 2014

Just want to give a quick hat tip to the linked column by Jonathan Chait to the effect that what really drove opposition to Eric Cantor what not so much the substance of any particular proposal he made, but to the fact that he made any sort of deal with the Democrats at all.  He shows how even the most conservative voters are actually split on the issue of immigration and then adds:
Conservative Republicans may not hate immigration reform, but they hate compromise in general. By an 82-14 margin, liberals want their elected officials to make compromises. By a 63-32 margin, conservatives want elected officials not to compromise. Republicans simply don’t trust bipartisan deals.
It’s an ideological trait that goes beyond mere hatred for Obama, which is considerable. During the Bush years, why did the conservative base revolt against immigration reform but not the prescription-drug entitlement? Surely one reason, aside from the substance of the two bills, is that immigration reform was a bipartisan effort with the high-profile involvement of right-wing hate figure Ted Kennedy, while the prescription-drug bill was rammed through Congress on a partisan basis.
The conservative revolt against compromise expresses itself constantly. It comes through in the ever-present trope of citing the length of legislation as a primary reason to oppose it. It likewise comes through in the way conservative intellectuals routinely attack bills as a "stew of deals, payoffs, waivers, and special-interest breaks" — which is to say, they hate the fact that passing bills in Congress requires cutting deals with disparate constituencies, which is how legislation works.
In other words, Republicans' real opposition is not to the substance of legislation at all, but to any cooperation with Democrats.  In some ways, this viewpoint is not new.  I am reminded of Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, in which he remarks:
The fundamentalist will have nothing to do with all this [the normal politics of compromise]: it is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities.  It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are fol all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism.
The difference is that today this attitude has taken over the entire Republican Party.  This once again shows the problems with combining a presidential system of government with something increasingly approaching parliamentary-style party discipline.  In a parliamentary system, this would not necessarily be a problem.  In a parliamentary system, all power rests in a single legislative body with tightly disciplined parties.  No one attempts bipartisan compromise, the "in's" simply enact their program without consulting the "out's."  It is assumed that if the In's ran on a particular platform, they will draw up legislation entirely by the In's without consulting the Out's and pass it with all the In's voting yes and all the Out's voting no.  The main check on passing anything too crazy is that the In's know if they do anything too crazy, they will lose the next election.

Such tight party discipline does not work so well under a presidential system because of its many veto points.  For any measure to pass, it must have the support of the House, the Senate and the President.  Any one of them can block any measure.  In fact, with the rise of the routine use of the "filibuster," we have added that new veto point that any measure must have a 60% supermajority in the Senate, and that means 60 absolute votes, not just 60% of those present.  When one party, let alone both parties, develops a parliamentary-style discipline, that means that legislation becomes impossible unless one party controls not only the House, the Senate and the Presidency, but at least 60 seats in the Senate. That is simply an insane way of running a country.

Republicans quite simply have what conservatives claim to despise -- a sense of entitlement, in this case to political power.  When the Democrats hold the Presidency, Senate and House, Republicans want their representatives to block all action and make the country ungovernable.  When the Republicans hold any one of these (in this case, the House), they want it to translate into complete power.  The real reason they are angry at Cantor is that he could not parley control of the House into complete control of the government, but ended up making a deal with Democrats who controlled the Presidency and Senate.  If that is the Republicans' goal, it is one they are unlikely to achieve, making these last two years ones of ever increasing anger and frustration.  Rough seas ahead.

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