Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Dilemma of Political Parties

Ezra Klein had great column a few weeks ago. I don't name-drop on columnists because I'm not impressed by names, and I certainly don't want to become one of the hundreds of bloggers who constantly comment on what other bloggers say.

But this column--it was a wonderful explanation of how political parties are ruining governance at this sorry time in our history. I'll quote what he says because it's completely clear and readable:
Parties no longer compete to win elections by giving voters the policies voters want. Rather, as coalitions of intense policy demanders, they have their own agendas and aim to get voters to go along. [quoting a paper]
...So the basic work of political parties is figuring out precisely how much of their agenda they need to sacrifice on the altar of electability.

...Parties must still... respond to voter wishes, but they wish to cede as little policy to voter preferences as possible [quoting again]
Klein shows how this applies to the current crop of Republican candidates, or leftovers as I've called them:
[The Republican party] members sense that this election might end with Republicans controlling the House, the Senate and the presidency. In that event, Republicans could get away with quite a lot. So they don’t want to blow it. What a shame it would be to have wasted this opportunity on a centrist candidate who will just end up compromising with Senate Democrats and looking to burnish his image with independents. On the other hand, it would be even worse to blow the opportunity on an extremist candidate who will scare voters into reelecting President Obama.
Definitely read the column. But the follow-up to this thesis is the practical question--how do we make our political parties answerable to more of us, not just to the "intense policy demanders?" If I ever read about that, I'll let you know.

Update 1/5/12. I heard a piece on NPR that is a corollary to Ezra's post. If politicians, when in office, are responding to their most intense supporters, we get a pendulum effect of throwing one set of partisans out, and electing the other set, and then having to throw them out. My post on the topic here.


Anonymous said...

Answer: Give every representative 100 votes to allocate instead of just 1. With one vote, they are going to be entirely at the whim of their party leaders and their agenda, and toward the people who help them win election. Then, the minority within each district gets no voice.

Members can then reach across the aisle to get some portion of each rep's votes, and the voters can see who the real hyper-partisans are and get rid of them at the next election.

ModeratePoli said...


Is there any place that uses this system? If so, how well does it work? My first reaction was huh? My second reaction was that it would end up the same. Politicians would always vote 100% of their votes. Then I realized that they could say that they are only 40% or 75% for a bill. But in close votes there would be incredible pressure to vote 100%.

Also, what if they had to deposit their proportional votes in a ballot box, and the results wouldn't be counted or recorded until everyone had voted? That would be cool.