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November 14, 2012 11:15 PM Filibuster Thoughts: Coalitions

By Jonathan Bernstein

In my post last week, I said that I’d like to increase incentives for cross-party incentives. An anonymous commenter quite sensibly asked: “Why?” It’s worth a response.

Basically, I’m for strong parties — but at the same time parties where are relatively non-ideological and non-hierarchical. In other words, I think that democracy is best served when parties cooperate and internally compete to make policy. At their best, American parties have done a pretty good job of that.

Part of that involves real intraparty differences. Our parties are stronger, in my view, if they can accommodate those differences while still working together.

The system as a whole, however, is stronger if individual politicians can be policy entrepreneurs as well, and not just within the party. Indeed: democracy is stronger, in my view, when the losing party isn’t entirely locked out of policy-making. After all, in single member districts, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and, oh, Jeff Flake and Ted Cruz, are just as much winners as are John Boehner and Harry Reid — and Barack Obama. Granted, we don’t expect minority parties to win on the sorts of issues which really divide the parties. But on other issues? Sure. Why not?

Parties should matter, yes.. Making party caucuses all-powerful just squanders the strength of single-member districts, of having Members of Congress who really know the various different places and constituencies out  there. Now, in a small nation, perhaps that’s not as important. But in a continental nation of over 300 million, it seems very likely to me that the problems of Phoenix are not the problems of Great Falls or the problems of Pittsburgh or the problems of Long Island. And having Members of Congress who really know and care about the various interests and issues that they represent, and can actually have the capacity to do something about it, seems extremely democratic to me.

So that’s one reason to encourage incentives for cross-party coalitions. A second is that, given the Constitutional system, we’re apt to have divided government fairly often, which pretty much means we have to have compromise between the parties to make any progress. Under those circumstances, it’s probably a good idea to have people around who practice at it.

There’s more, but that’s a start, at least.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
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