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Partisan Asymmetry and American Governance: Somehow I Don't Think We Are in Wales Anymore, Daniel... Weblogging

The key thing that Daniel appears to miss is that low discipline on the part of the Democratic Party is not something that a thinking entity called "Democrats" chose, it is, rather, simply a fact about the world as it is.

Daniel Davies:

Learned helplessness, strategic victimhood and … the Democrats: Recall, Obama’s whole strategy was based around abandoning all other priorities such as carbon tax, an effective stimulus bill, half his nominations, most of the financial sector reforms and so forth, all to concentrate on passing health care. And he only got about half of that - the version passed was something he’d specifically campaigned against as not being anything like radical enough. So given that, how are we to suppose that President Romney would be able to push through an agenda five times as radical, including the ultimate third-rail issue of abortion? You would have to believe that under a Democratic administration Congress is a sclerotic, obstructionist institution which prevents all possibility of effective government, but as soon as the Republicans get in it becomes a streamlined ideological machine.

Yes, Daniel, that is about how it works.

The problem is that there are different degrees of party loyalty in the Democratic and Republican coalitions. The Republicans are a party: they can be whipped--and are. Party loyalty, when the chips are down, trumps ideology and policy preferences. The Democrats are a themeless pudding: a blancmange, say. When the chips are down, Republican moderates like Snowe, Collins, Brown, Murkowski, Cochran, Bond, Lugar, and Grassley have voted with their party's leaders--even against their own policy proposals. But when the chips are down, Hagan, Johnson, Warner, Lieberman, Baucus, Webb, Nelson, McCaskill, and Carper have not--they have had to expensively negotiated into the Democratic policy line every time.

As Norman Ornstein says about the difference in party loyalty between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate:

I think it reflects a deep cultural difference between the two parties in a host of different ways. And part of it is the Republican part. In the Republican Party, moderates and progresses were always a relatively small minority. They were there, they were significant, but they never made up more than 20, 25, 30% of the party. For the Democrats, the southern conservatives made up 50% or 40% from a very long period of time. And so there was a different sense of the importance and the power that those people had. Secondly, I do think there is simply a cultural difference. For Republicans, it’s almost more of a religion or a tribal identification than it is for Democrats.

That is sometimes really curious to see. Watch Olympia Snow get caught up in this the way that she did.

I worked with Olympia very closely on the campaign reform staff. She was under enormous pressure from McConnell and others. She stood fast.

Then you fast-forward to the aftermath of the Citizens United decision. What we worked on with Olympia, when campaign finance reform was floundering over the Republicans' insistence that if you are going to keep corporations out of the game, you need to freeze labor out too. Trying to find a common ground. So we came up with something that ended up being the Snow-Jeffords amendment--which was a way of keeping corporations and unions out of elections and communications when we are close to elections, all of that stuff. It passed the court when Sandra Day O’Connor was still there. It was the target, as much as anything in particular was, of Citizens United.

So we get the response to Citizens United: the Disclose act. Now you can quibble with portions of that. But this is a bill that passes the House handily, and then gets to the Senate and all 59 Democrats support it. And not one Republican, including Snowe—this was her most important legislative achievement--would vote for cloture, and so it dies. We would be in a different place if that bill had passed--not radically different but different, and you will see more of this sort of coming forward. The desire not to be shunned within your own party is a part of it.

It’s almost like you are in a religion. You look at misbehavior on the part of the leaders of that religion, and you are shocked and dismayed, but you are not leaving your religion. And you are still going to go to church: you just can’t give up something that you held in a lifelong way.

I think Democrats are just different in that front. They don’t have the same discipline. I see even some of it outside. You get a talking point that gets distributed. Now, for example, we can’t meet anybody in or out of office who doesn’t say: "Well, what do you say about the Senate not passing a budget resolution for three years?" They picked up on a talking point. It’s a phony talking point. But it’s a talking pointit’s. It's not like they have a phone call every morning where everybody dials in and they are given marching orders. It’s just there and they pick up on it.

By contrast Democrats are all over the map.

So there is a difference in culture there. But I would just add that I think Thomas was right in pointing out that given all of that, Obama’s achievement--and you know you have to give some of it to Pelosi and to Reid--at getting all 60 democrats from socialist Burney Sanders to Ben Nelson to vote for a health care bill...

Brad DeLong: The Heritage Foundation’s healthcare bill. Romney’s healthcare plan. Something that’s significantly to the right of Olympia Snowe's policy priorities, as demonstrated by her life up to 2008.

Norman Ornstein: Okay. And they got socialist Barney Sanders to vote for it.

Brad DeLong: Yes.

Norman Ornstein: You know it’s the Heritage Foundation's bill, but it’s also the Hatch-Grassley healthcare bill.

Brad DeLong: Yes.

Norman Ornstein: But the fact Pelosi got enough Democrats to support a cap-and-trade bill, even if it never went though the Senate.

Brad DeLong: But they were not organized enough to pass a carbon tax through reconciliation in February of 2009 and then bargain back in the Senate to cap-and-trade.

Norman Ornstein: Well, you know, let’s remember this is the Democratic Party. Will Rogers said: “I am not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” So that’s built into the culture as well. But there is a difference here. I think it’s one of the things—part of our frustrations, I could easily pick out 30 Republicans in the House who are problem solvers, and who would love to be out there working with Democrats--and in some cases they do in committee and sub-committee. Then there are bills which they contributed to, and they have been compromised before they even get to the floor, and they all vote against him. And of course the other part of this is there is no Democratic Club for Growth that says: "We are waiting for you, and if you vote in way that we don’t like, there will be millions in to knock you off in the primary." It happens to Democrats, but nowhere near as significant and the threat is nowhere near as deep.

Brad DeLong: So is the problem that Daily Kos and Netroots Nation are not strong enough?

Norman Ornstein: No, we are not advocating having both parties have an ideological police…