Procrastinating on June 22, 1941

Must-Read: I want to play the bipartisan-technocrat policy game.

The old conventional wisdom was that playing that game was productive and fun. You see, members of the Senate and the House. Thus, and so the two houses--everybody in them--shared the goal of trying to arrange things so that they each looked good to their local constituents. And good technocratic policies were an effective move in that win-win--or mostly win-win--game.

But now? The political-economy and political-structural questions are:

  1. Has this changed--is the game now to make the president of the other party look bad?
  2. Did the game change with the Democrats under Richard Nixon--who was genuinely bad--and have Republicans just been playing tit-for-tat since?
  3. Did the game change with the accession of Newt Gingrich--and his strange and false belief that he would have a better and longer career as a partisan bomb thrower than as a statesman?
  4. Did the game change with George W. Bush--and his decision that Democratic members of the House and Senate who supported him on policy would not be cut any campaign fund-allocation breaks at election time?
  5. Did the game change with the election of a Black man?

And how do we get back--if we can get back? And do we want to get back?

These are all the questions that I wish political scientists were trying to answer for me. Yet few are--save Tom Mann, Norm Ornstein, Rick Perlstein, and a very few others...

Nancy LeTourneau: What Happens When One Party Doesn’t Care About Governing?: "Over the course of the Obama presidency, we’ve watched as Republicans have thrown out many of the norms...

...[Not] just things like shouting ‘You lie!’ in a presidential address... not just a requirement that basically any vote (including presidential nominations) get a super majority... includes... overtly undermining the executive branch during complex negotiations with other countries... failing to give a Supreme Court nominee a hearing... threatening to not raise the debt limit.... These are the kinds of things a party does when it doesn’t care about governing.... I am reminded of something a blogger named mistermix wrote back in 2010 during the height of the budget negotiations.

As Tim F. posted earlier, Ezra Klein thinks that Obama’s a bad poker player.... The analogy isn’t helpful. Poker is a win/lose game. Negotiation is a win/win game.... Republicans aren’t playing poker or negotiating. They are playing another game, call it ‘You Must Lose’. They’re happy with win/lose, if they win, but they’ll tolerate lose/lose as long as Obama loses. The only analogy that springs to mind when I look at the Republicans’ recent behavior is a bad divorce.... Bob is so hell-bent on hurting Lisa that he doesn’t care about their kids or their bank account. Bob will deploy a hundred variations on the same tactic: put the Lisa in a bind where she has to choose between damaging the children and losing money. Lisa will lose money almost every time in order to save the children....

That caught my eye because, as a former family therapist I know the analogy well.... It actually becomes calcified and intractable when both parents buy in--which ensures that everyone always loses. Think about that next time you hear a liberal suggest that Democrats should employ the same tactics as the Republicans.... Here is how Mike Lofgren described it back in 2011:

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

So what are the Democrats’ options in a situation like this? First of all, they shouldn’t take the bait and join in a guaranteed lose-lose game....At some point, voters have to decide if it is in their interest to elect politicians who are simply using them as their pawns in a power game. I know that as a family therapist, when I saw that a divorce wars situation was intractable, I would eventually go to the kids to begin the process of empowering them to make good choices (luckily in my practice they were adolescents)....

The old conservative vs liberal arguments aren’t much in play this election. That is obvious in the presidential contest. But it is also true in House/Senate races...