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October 14, 2009

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What you miss is that the Democrats are just structurally a more diverse coalition. Maybe -- maybe-- some stronger Senate leader (LBJ reborn) could force more discipline, but the Dems voters would still be a group with less in common than Republican voters.

In my defense, though, I'm not saying that Democrats should maintain perfect party unity. I just want to raise the costs of defection to ensure that people defect for good reasons.

I don't think that highly of Senators in general- high costs will dissuade both civic-minded defections and those coming from baser motives. If I had to put money on it, Id be more likely to bet on a Senator going to the mattresses for an important contributor or to ensure re-election rather than on some principle that their base would rather see going the other way anyway.
But it's nice that not everyone is that cynical. Maybe it's just cool or easy to be cynical, and you're right. I hope so.

One of the driving factors you're leaving out is the "clubbiness" of the Senate, i.e. Chuck Schumer supporting Joe Lieberman after he lost his own party's primary.
I suspect that too often senators put too high a premium on staying in the good graces of their fellow senators than in the good graces of their constituents.

In my defense, though, I'm not saying that Democrats should maintain perfect party unity. I just want to raise the costs of defection to ensure that people defect for good reasons.

If Ben Nelson thinks in his heart of hearts that this is a bad bill that will cost him his seat, then he shouldn't be punished for defecting. But, we still need the threat of punishment to ensure he's not defecting strictly for the self-serving desire to see himself on Meet the Press, or to squeeze concessions through bad faith blackmail (i.e., Liebermaning).

The thing is that, to work, the costs have to be imposed regardless of the reason for the defection.

The trick is to have them be substantial enough to discourage vanity defections, but not so substantial that they entirely discourage principled defections.

Pithlord - the Dems are a lot more ideologically coherent than they were even a half-dozen years ago, when there were still a number of leftover Southern Dems (who lost in 2004).

Now, the root of the 'diversity' seems to have more to do with the influence of corporate money on small-state Dem Senators. Nate Silver's discussed why this particular group is more affected by corporate money than Senators from larger states. But party discipline can have a positive effect on limiting that sort of 'diversity.'

Here's another alternative--make every effort to reduce the cost of defections to zero.

Publius's stated benefits to defecting--unique influence over the bill, and media attention--both derive from the fact that there is a real and substantial cost to defecting. It's the Senator's willingness to incur that cost that makes the defection "courageous" or "special."

But what if party discipline was discouraged? What if, all of a sudden, doing the right thing didn't make you courageous or special, but just meant that you were doing your job? Because somewhere under a rainbow, I'm pretty sure that's how it was meant to be--good ideas are supposed to win out . . . no?

But if publius is cynical, then I'm naive. Party discipline probably is an important check against special interest lobbyists, etc. And unilateral disarmament is probably a bad idea for the party that tries it, at least in the short term. So I'm not raising this as a serious proposal just yet. But I think that there is something frightening about developing institutionalized political retribution to target the open-minded. I don't think it's a big deal, since many of the ideas in Congress are so awful that I'm inherently suspicious of the people who will open their minds to them, but it's a small deal, and it says something about our democracy when our most intelligent commentators will look at Sen. Snowe's move and react by saying the rough equivalent of, "If I ran that party, I sure as hell wouldn't allow that to happen."

As Will Rogers said about 80 years ago, "I don't belong to any organized party -- I'm a Democrat." Nice to know some things never change.

Though this is a little off topic, it came to my attention, via the evening news no less, that the health care plan supplied to congress is portable. Not only portable, but portable at continued tax payer subsidy. It makes a lot more sense why these people have little incentive to make things better for the rest of us. They have it about as good as it gets and no risk of losing what they have.

This is outrageous! Just Sayin.

You say "if he thinks this is a bad bill that will cost him his seat", what does that mean? A good bill could cost him his seat also. So is it his seat he should be worrying about or the goodness or badness of the bill?

One of the things that annoys me the most about Dems like Lincoln and the Nelsons is that I am pretty sure that the smart things politically, in terms of getting re=elected, is for them to support the public option. The public option puts real benefits into the lives of voters at home, many of them town hall shreikers. Just as the opposition to the stimulus stopped onnce the money arrived, oppositionn to the public option would become counterproductive to Republicans once it became a reality to voters at home. I'm never sure with Dems like the Nelsons and Lincoln how much their defections come from misreading their voters and how much comes frm the lure of money. Mabye the lure of money predisposses them to misread their voters. In any case Dems like the Nelsons and Lincoln might get some sort of benefit at the Senate or from the VIllage for their defections but I do't think that opposing policies that could provide real concrete benefits at home will help them get re-elected.

"Just as the opposition to the stimulus stopped onnce the money arrived, oppositionn to the public option would become counterproductive to Republicans once it became a reality to voters at home"

I think you have misconstrued specific dissent and discussion about the stimulus with lack of opposition. Once passed, the opposition to the stimulus was transferred to the next big spending program by the government. The stimulus package is less popular now than when passed. One of the problems passing healthcare is the continued opposition (or, more accurately, skepticism) to the stimulus and bailout bills.

Pithlord: What you miss is that the Democrats are just structurally a more diverse coalition.

Adding to lowtech's comment above..Pithlord is right to an extent, although beyond that, his explanation is circular; the GOP used to be a much more diverse party until they got Discipline. A negative way of restating his comment might be that the Democratic coalition is so diverse that it's not really defined by anything (if not universal health care, then what?).

Mr. Blah B. Blah felt that this was a particularly good post. Lindsey Graham recently defied a rather raucous meeting of teabaggers; either this means that they're weakening and it is now safe to do so, or that he's being forced to defend the levers of power within the South Carolina G.O.P.

I also think that discipline becomes less of an issue if it weren't already so hard to pass legislation b/c of the filibuster and holds and committee chairs, etc.

If the majority party could actually pass legislation, there would be less need for this stuff. And Snowe wouldn't matter at all.

" also think that discipline becomes less of an issue if it weren't already so hard to pass legislation b/c of the filibuster and holds and committee chairs, etc.

If the majority party could actually pass legislation, there would be less need for this stuff. And Snowe wouldn't matter at all."

I don't think this is very self aware. I am sure that these checks and balances were very important to many in 2002, not so much in 2009. They will be again, so don't wish for something you don't really want.

The Massachusetts legislature proved that a few weeks ago, thankfully for them they were still in power to reverse themselves.

Marty, I think the stimulus was inadequate and I also know that there are folks who are philosophicaly opposed to what they consider big government or big governemtn spending: and who do not need such spending themselves: and can, therefore, remain comfortably opposed when the money arrives. However the pattern I was referrinng to went like this: the stimmulus package was attacked persistantly mostly by Republican politicians at the national level until it passed. Then the national level politicians either went home to their districts and bragged to their constituents about the benefits of the stimulus locally or continued to oppose the stimulus, some going so far as to urge their state legislatures to turn down the money. Those that took that route were quickly rebuked by the Republicans at the state level who saw no benefit in deny resources to their constituents and had to change their opposition. Sarah Palin and Bobby JIndal are examples of state level pols with national aspirations who followed the national party line until state level realities made then change their tune. So once passed the stimulus was largely supported at home even by it's Republican politician opponents.

I think that the public option would follow the same pattern. Many of the town hall shriekers are people who need affordable insurance. I don't see very many people turning down Social Security and Medicare because it is an evil nazi socialist plot with death panels. Once the public option is there, the people who need it will opt for it. Any of the people who don't need it will know someone who does.

Remember the opt-out suggestioon? The ideea was to passs the public option and those states that wished to could then opt out. The idea died because everyon in COngress knows tghat it would be politically impossible for even very red states to opt out for the same reason that no Republican went home and said,"I'm opposed to the money that is funding your mass transit, your highway repair, your university researchlab..." They aren't going to go home and say," I'm taking away your chance to opt for health insurance" either.


Wonkie,

I agree that, once the taxpayers realize that they are paying a trillion dollars for something, they are unlikely to turn down whatever benefits are distributed. That's common sense. I just think it is a false sense of security to believe that once it passed everyone went home and found that it was more popular than they imagined it would be.

Healthcare will be the same. Once it is passed people will focus on how to get the benefit for themselves. I do believe they won't forget the cumulative price tag.

Sometimes people are practical, it doesn't mean the opposition went away. They (as the President pointed out) just lost and are dealing with it.


"I don't see very many people turning down Social Security and Medicare because it is an evil nazi socialist plot with death panels"

Money was stripped from my pockets all of my working life to pay for these programs. Why should I turn down something I paid for even though I don't approve of it? In fact I'm going to be very upset if they cut back on these programs.

"In fact I'm going to be very upset if they cut back on these programs."

I should said, "...cut back benefits for current beneficiaries."

CharlesWT, money was taken from your pockets all your working life to pay for road maintenance, too. Does that mean we should never cut back on maintenance?
If Medicare really were a bad idea, why should we throw good money after bad?

Maybe you would have traded guaranteed benefits for the right to keep that part of your paycheck, and maybe that would have turned out to be a good gamble for you. But most people wouldn't trade, and wouldn't be better off.

"..., money was taken from your pockets all your working life to pay for road maintenance, too. Does that mean we should never cut back on maintenance?"

Social Security and Medicare are a bit more personal than road maintenance. The government, in effect, said "We're going to take your money whether you like it or not, but we'll give you back something of a certain value at a certain point in the future." If the government decreases benefits, it's saying "OOps! Sorry. We lied." There'll be a lot of unhappy campers.

"If Medicare really were a bad idea, why should we throw good money after bad?"

Medicare is a bad idea, but, no doubt, there's a lot things that could be done to save a lot of money without cutting benefits.

Or maybe the government would like to buy me out. I'm open to an offer. :)

"Without it, it would be very difficult to maintain party unity on virtually any high-profile polarized issue."

This is the optimal outcome under the American governmental structure. Defect/Defect=Win/win.

One worse outcome is both sides enforcing party unity, shoehorning parliamentary party politics into a system never built to handle it.

The worst case is the one which we inhabit now, when only ONE party enforces party discipline. This is moderately self-correcting (as the party which permits heterodoxy is more likely to win elections), but disastrous in the short to medium term.

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