Ten Miles Square

Blog

May 15, 2014 5:48 PM McConnell’s Ideology-Free Policy Blockade

By Jonathan Bernstein

More on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy of all-out rejectionism. As I wrote earlier, part of the problem with this approach is that it sacrifices achievable policy gains for potential down-the-road electoral gains. I should clarify a bit.

Accepting losses today in exchange for victories tomorrow makes sense only to those who are fiercely ideological, for whom large-scale, systemic ideas are all that matter. For some libertarians, for example, the debate between any of the possible outcomes in health care reform in 2009-2010 might have been irrelevant. From one ideological point of view, the health-care status quo was just as government-entangled — and subsidized — as the new system being proposed by the Democrats.

I’m not even remotely sympathetic to that kind of big-picture ideology, and it would be a real threat to democracy if most people started thinking that way. But if one does think that way, McConnellism might make sense, even if the electoral gains it generates are very small.

I know what you’re thinking: McConnell isn’t a big-picture ideology type of politician. I agree.

But there is a type of politician who might consider accepting policy losses now in return for even a mild chance of electoral advantage in the future: someone who has no interest in public policy.

Careful, what matters here is whether someone is indifferent to public policy as a politician. That requires not caring about issues, but also having an electoral coalition that doesn’t care about policy. McConnell may well fulfill the first condition; I doubt he fulfills the second.

Still, the conservative information feedback loop may create conditions of pure, substance-free partisanship, in which concerns about “substance” are just another way of expressing partisanship. I like partisanship and believe it’s a necessary condition for democracy. But taken to an extreme in which people only care about party and not at all about policy and other substantive concerns, it can become a threat to democracy, too.

At any rate, McConnell is no ideologue, and I’m sure he cares, at least about the issues important to Kentucky. So none of this applies to him, even if it is relevant to McConnellism.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

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

Comments

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus