Partisan/Bipartisan

by John Holbo on March 29, 2010

Suppose you have a two-party system.

One of these parties enjoys/enforces total party discipline, the other, not: members of the latter party side with their own, or cross the aisle, on individual issues/votes, as conscience or self-interest dictate. Let’s call the completely disciplined party the Partisan Party. The completely undisciplined, the Bipartisan Party (to reflect its principled commitment to always keeping the door open to the higher value of bipartisanship!)

Over time, both parties will push positive proposals/ legislation. Quite obviously, the Bipartisan Party will be at a tactical disadvantage, due to its lax discipline. Less obviously, it will have an ongoing optics problem. All the proposals of the Partisan Party will be bipartisan. That is, a few members of the other party will, predictably, peel off and cross the aisle to stands with the Partisans. None of the proposals of the Bipartisan Party, on the other hand, will ever be bipartisan. No Partisan will ever support a Bipartisan measure. In fact, all proposals of the Bipartisan party will face bipartisan opposition – as a few Bipartisans trudge across the aisle (there are always a few!) to stand with the Partisans. Result: the Partisan party, thanks to its unremitting opposition to bipartisanship, will be able to present itself as the party of bipartisanship, and be able to critique the Bipartisan Party, with considerable force and conviction, as the hypocritically hyperpartisan party of pure partisanship.

Conclusion: two measures of partisanship/bipartisanship that you might think make good heuristic sense – 1) being able to get bipartisan support for your proposals; 2) being opposed to those who can’t get any bipartisan support for their proposals – in fact aren’t good heuristics.

(Obviously it’s misleading to hint that the Democrats have no party discipline whatsoever, but the point still stands if modulated to match actually existing actuality.)

{ 61 comments }

1

tps12 03.29.10 at 12:46 am

IAWTP (nt)

2

Laurel 03.29.10 at 12:56 am

A small model! Also interesting to think about how parties get to be Bipartisan or Partisan. Consider two electoral strategies a party might pursue in any district: the first maximizes seats won by running a candidate matched to the district (at the expense of party cohesiveness in Congress); the second maximizes the unity of the caucus by running only candidates matched to the party’s ideology (at the expense of number of seats held). In a two-party system, if one party chooses the first strategy and the other chooses the second, you end up with a Bipartisan/Partisan split. It’s a biproduct of the electoral strategy that gives the Democrats a big majority.

3

Laurel 03.29.10 at 12:57 am

sorry, I mean byproduct.

4

Simeon Joffe 03.29.10 at 1:04 am

yup.

5

scathew 03.29.10 at 2:02 am

Answer: Nuke the site from orbit.

Seriously – stop making the attempt to be bipartisan. It only works against us.

6

mcd 03.29.10 at 2:22 am

The measures of bipartisanship are bad measures because “bipartisanshp” doesn’t address the real interest. You’d really like a term like “bi-ideological” for a proposal that can appeal to all parts of the political spectrum, or at least from conservative to liberal. But parties don’t match necessarily with political leaning. Especially with Democrats, which have lots of conservatives, versus no liberals hardly among Republicans.

So reaching across the aisle usuallyjust means finding people in the other party that agree with you on most issues anyway.

7

Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.29.10 at 2:23 am

I don’t think the model is applicable.

Due to a peculiarity of the US Senate rules, it currently takes 60 votes to pass any substantive measure. The difference in the caucuses is that one caucus is primarily interested in policy and the other is only interested in short term tactical positioning. It thus makes good sense for individual Democrats to break party ranks for individual policy advantage. But it does not make sense for the Republicans to do so.

The meta-tactics here are that it is in the interests of the Democrats to cement their position by eliminating the filibuster. But they can only do so if they have demonstrated that the old system is completely broken and can never be brought back. While eliminating the filibuster will of course mean that a Republican administration can do a lot more damage, more damage even than George W. Bush, this fact is likely to make people a lot less likely to vote for them.

For example, imagine if people thought that it was possible for the GOP to repeal social security with 51 votes. I think they would never get about 40.

8

Jamey 03.29.10 at 2:49 am

To me the whole bipartisanship obsession is gone completely nutty because people have forgotten that bipartisanship is not an end in itself. Only a means to an end. The point of bipartisanship is to be able to accomplish things that would otherwise not get done. If bipartisanship becomes an obstacle to progress, as opposed to an aid to it, then bipartisanship ceases to be a virtue.

If anyone can make an a serious argument as to why bipartisanship should be an end in itself, I’d like to hear it.

9

BKR 03.29.10 at 3:15 am

#2 makes a good point but the fact is that the Democrats do not in fact enjoy large majorities. In fact there is a non-insignificant chance of them loosing their house majority this election cycle. I think that the interesting corollary to this post is to ask how a party maintains such strict standard of obedience while also maintaining a large (enough) vote share to participate in national government.

10

a sane person 03.29.10 at 3:16 am

I followed you until you drew this conclusion:

the Partisan party, thanks to its unremitting opposition to bipartisanship, will be able to present itself as the party of bipartisanship, and be able to critique the Bipartisan Party, with considerable force and conviction, as the hypocritically hyperpartisan party of pure partisanship

This doesn’t make sense to me. Is the Republican party currently percieved as the bipartisan party, or able to present itself as a bipartisan party? It doesn’t look that way to me. But then again, I’m looking at US politics from a long way away (Croatia, to be exact) so I’m most certainly missing a lot of what’s going on.

11

Laurel 03.29.10 at 7:10 am

@10: the Partisans can propose measure that gather Bipartisan support, but not vice versa – thus, being able to propose measures that gather bipartisan support (or opposing measures that don’t gather bipartisan support) is in itself not a good guide to a party’s real bipartisan (small b) credentials.

Whether you consider the Republican Party a model of bipartisanship depends, of course, on your pre-existing political leanings. And where you’re getting your news. I read John Holbo’s point as being a caution to news agencies as much as to individuals.

12

John Holbo 03.29.10 at 7:16 am

“Is the Republican party currently percieved as the bipartisan party, or able to present itself as a bipartisan party?”

I have no idea whether the spin is working, but this is it. What is supposed to be so remarkable about health care reform is that the Dems passed in it a purely partisan manner, against bi-partisan opposition. And it IS rather remarkable! But not quite for the reasons that this description of the situation would tend to suggest.

13

moe 03.29.10 at 7:20 am

#7: people won’t be less likely to vote for them because people don’t vote in a coordinated fashion but only for their representative/Senator. And they don’t have the whole country in mind when they do it. (Often, they cannot, because they don’t know who is going to win in the other districts.)

The problem with getting rid of the filibuster and other measures now is that I’m afraid the democrats won’t do anything much with their power. They would simply give more power over to the Republicans when they dominate. If we could go back in time to the ’40s when the Democrats were for significant transformation, then I’d be all for it. But then it would be unnecessary.

14

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.29.10 at 7:49 am

Party is just a stand-in for group interests. As long as a group is not organized on the national level, its party is going to be a joke.

Now, in a two-party system the most simple and obvious way to organize is by hatred towards the other party, what it stands for.

Well, what red-blooded American would hate capitalism, freedom, family, Christianity, American exceptionalism? Only a freak.

15

JoB 03.29.10 at 7:54 am

John, great analysis – and entertaining too!

But on the details, I don’t know. In a 2-party system, it is cautious not to vote a systemic change against the minority party, regardless of the tactics of that minority party. I think it was right to have taken the time – as it was right in the end to have dispensed with the niceties and moved on.
We’ll see on the next elections whether the tactics described by you have been successful. But it is a real danger now in the US (as it has been in Western Europe) that the political system will be split in those who perceive themselves as have not’s (combining most of the rich, & almost all of the poor (and almost 100% of people living outside the urban areas)) and ‘the rest’. This risk is a real one &, although it upsets me as well, it’s probably the reasonable thing to do for reasonable people to indulge the hysterics up to some level.

16

Salient 03.29.10 at 11:44 am

I couldn’t read this without thinking about what the Partisan Party of the First Part would say to the Partisan Party of the Second Part. Probably: “Well, things seem to be getting better around the country.”

17

ogmb 03.29.10 at 12:02 pm

All the proposals of the Partisan Party will be bipartisan. That is, a few members of the other party will, predictably, peel off and cross the aisle to stands with the Partisans. None of the proposals of the Bipartisan Party, on the other hand, will ever be bipartisan. No Partisan will ever support a Bipartisan measure.

Parts of my dissertation were on that topic, using (surprise, surprise) floor voting data from the U.S. Senate. The problem you describe is a real one, but it’s mostly because of the poor state of the art in designing and applying partisanship measures in the political science literature (and, by extension, the punditsphere). First of all, you can separately measure the partisanship of each caucus by measuring each legislator’s party adherence individually and then aggregating over each caucus. (Turns out, the caucuses don’t differ that much on that score — The reason for this is that a partisan challenge by one caucus will likely trigger a partisan response from the other caucus. ) Second, rather than capturing partisanship you can capture individual ideology and again aggregate by caucus. The connection is that a unified caucus has a clear voting advantage over an undisciplined caucus, and will likely try to translate this advantage into more radical policy proposals. McCarthy, Poole & Rosenthal, have captured this quite succinctly in this graph (from their book Polarized America), which shows that the Republican caucus has drifted towards a radical conservative position over the last 30 years (since the onset of the Reagan Revolution), while the Democratic caucus has comparatively stayed put.

18

Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.29.10 at 12:10 pm

Bipartisanship is just another selective virtue that the Washington DC media establishment only learns the value of during Democratic administrations.

None of the people now trumpeting the virtues of bipartisanship were doing so during the disastrous failure of the George W. Bush administration. Or rather ‘bipartisanship’ meant that Democrats had to agree to support every demand of the Republicans without complaint.

The establishment media in the US has always tilted Conservative on every issue apart from the Republican hate plank. The Washington post has room for racists like Krauthamer and liars like George Wills, but no room for Dan Froomkin. In other words it is alright as far as the Post is concerned for Conservatives to annoy Democrats with hatemongering and lies, but not OK for a liberal to annoy Republicans with the truth.

For the establishment, ‘Bipartisanship’ means agreeing with the Republican position. So by definition, every Republican is automatically bipartisan, even when they are engaged in not so-subtle calls for their supporters to do violence to Democrats – as Sarah Palin has been doing this past week.

If the establishment media was not entirely in the tank for Republicans they would recognize that bipartisanship is impossible and it is the Republican’s fault, when the Republican party leader is lying about ‘death panels’ and nobody else in the party is condemning it.

19

Salient 03.29.10 at 12:21 pm

Is the Republican party currently percieved as the bipartisan party, or able to present itself as a bipartisan party?

It’s definitely true that the Democratic party is perceived as a dangerously partisan left-wing party, by lots of well-meaning right-leaning apolitical folks that didn’t feel that way even two years ago. Lots of people who normally don’t pay attention to politics, but have historically been even vaguely sympathetic to conservative principles, are absorbing wholesale the argument that the Democrats are currently engaged in wholesale destruction of America over Republicans’ attempt to protect the country.

My hobby is attending these tea-party events, just connecting with folks, listening and seeing how they feel and what they’re thinking and worrying about. The last tea-party rally I attended had, like, sixty people there, which is a lot for any non-church event in those parts,^1^ and it wasn’t part of any national coordinated rally, it was a follow-up meeting, I think loosely associated with the 9-12 project. The people who attended literally believe the Democrats have declared war on America — I don’t think they’re lying to each other about this — and are bewildered and horrified and don’t know how to fight back. But they are completely convinced that, although they never spent much effort in politics before, they really do need to “fight back” against a literal threat to their safety and security. The statement “we need to fight back” (understood in the militaristic sense) is completely uncontroversial now.

So, I’m not sure what “partisan” means exactly, but Democrats are at a bare minimum perceived as dangerously partisan, which equates roughly to “attempting to kill and hurt people in your community for the sake of political advantage.” (The Republicans are by and large “letting it happen” which is, roughly, I guess, what bipartisan would mean.)

The attendees talk with complete sincerity about what to do, how to respond, when the concentration camps are formally announced, and have lengthy debates about whether waiting until they are announced will be “too late.” I learned that county has an organized militia, and like where to go group up in self-defense when camps are announced… learned a lot about carry rights in my state, as well as the fact that there is (allegedly) no penalty for refusing to pay the mandated fine for not having health insurance (though everyone there except one guy had insurance through their employers, the understanding was that you would have to pay a fine unless you bought your insurance from the government and paid their mark-up prices, which I’m completely confident is false).

Anyway, the point is, the rhetoric is surprisingly broadly successful, especially (this is anecdata) among normally vaguely conservative but apolitical women aged 40+, who were in the majority at almost all the recent events I’ve attended.

^1^We met in a church, and the meeting began and ended with prayer, but not led by the pastor of that church, and most of the attendees were not members of that church.

20

Alex 03.29.10 at 12:42 pm

I have to say that the very word “bipartisan” has come to mean something more like “terminal wanker” to me.

21

Pete 03.29.10 at 12:52 pm

Salient: wow, an extraordinary situation. Have you been able to work out why they believe this declaration of war when it’s so far from the obvious facts? Obviously they’ve been lied to, but what is it in them that resonates so strongly to want to believe the lies?

22

Ginger Yellow 03.29.10 at 1:22 pm

I couldn’t read this without thinking about what the Partisan Party of the First Part would say to the Partisan Party of the Second Part.

You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Senate-y Clause.

23

Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.29.10 at 1:32 pm

Salient’s experience appears to be representative. These are people who on average are even less well informed than would be achieved by watching Fox News.

It is not hard to see how this happens. Anyone who questions anti-Obama assumptions is quickly isolated as a potential government informer. The group is self-selecting and self-reinforcing. The same thing used to happen with factional leftist groups like SWP.

This is the flipside of Rove’s strategy of ‘disinformation’. While Rove was running WH communications he was able to create a complete alternative universe for supporter s to believe in. Without it, Bush would have been trounced as a failure in the 2004 election. That is why Katrina was such a significant event: when the New Orleans levees broke, so did the boundary between Rove’s bubble of illusion and the facts. Now Rove is gone, those still in the bubble are unmoored, there is nobody that they trust.

Which should raise the question of how the GOP can leverage a base that has become ‘energized’ on the basis of such peculiar and inconsistent disinformation. Palin energizes the base, but she scares most Republicans and pretty much all independent voters.

The difference in reporting of the tea parties and other demonstrations in the establishment press is all that keeps the movement alive. The other weekend, 300,000 people attended the immigration reform demonstration. That is more than have turned out for any tea party demonstration. But of course, being a left-wing cause, the demonstration was totally ignored. The Tea Party is a pretty small deal compared to Dean For America, yet Dean didn’t even manage to take over the Democratic party, let alone the country.

In the 2004 election we heard at great length about John Edward’s alleged $150 hair cut. Anyone care to bet that the media will devote a tenth the reporting to RNC chair Steele’s $1600 bill in a bondage themed nightclub? That is unless there is a faction inside the Republican party who decides to run on it.

24

jacob 03.29.10 at 1:39 pm

Salient, are you planning to turn your “hobby” into a book project? I confess I probably wouldn’t read it, since I found your comment disturbing and terrifying enough. (And I do mean that literally.)

25

Salient 03.29.10 at 1:50 pm

Have you been able to work out why they believe this declaration of war when it’s so far from the obvious facts?

Well, I have my borrowed pet theories about it. (For the second link, it’s worth reading the entire dinner-table story.)

Shortened almost to incoherence, the pet theory is that they’ve spent their whole lives expecting (and dreading) an epic battle with evil, and they’re convinced It Is Coming.

The conservative Christian ideology has encouraged them, their entire lives, to view their whole life as part of an epic struggle of good and evil. Evil is everywhere, creeping up, preparing to overwhelm, or to suddenly strike. And you’re trained to actively look for the evil that’s always creeping up all around you (generally, this takes the form of decadence, impropriety, and disrespect for recognized authority figures). A feeling of despair at the evil of the world, and the deep threat this poses to your own soul, is quite normal.

I understand there to be some kind of implicit guilt by association: the fact that people around you are engaging in decadence endangers your soul. And they shouldn’t have a right to endanger your soul with their behavior. Or at the very least, to protect your own soul from taint, it’s your role in the world to be afraid of the sin around you, to call it out and protest it and be afraid of its ability to taint you with evil. The idea could be compared to a mild reworking of the city of Sodom story, I think.

So anyway. Every single tea party attendee I’ve ever met is a conservative Christian. Almost all of them, and every single woman, very strongly self-identifies as this; the only possible exception is some of the militia folk who go along with it but aren’t deeply emotionally invested in that identity (though even they use phrases like “God-fearing man” .

They are a subpopulation of America who are predisposed to believe, and be afraid of, grave threat. The Democratic party is already known to be the ones who pose the threat, because they enable murderers (i.e., they support killing babies; i.e., they are pro-choice).

So now they’ve been emboldened, by electing a suspect President (who wasn’t even eligible to be elected, because he is foreign-born, and who is obviously an evil man — whatever their other views on race, they understand Obama to have been illegitimately placed in the President position by sinister organizations like ACORN which have been just waiting for a moment to exploit. A common misconception is that Obama actually belonged to, and participated in bombings with, the Weather Underground).

So they’re emboldened, and so they’re making their move to destroy America. It strikes me as very logical, if you begin with two beliefs:

1) Other people living their way of life endangers your soul.

2) Everyone knows that your Godly way of life is holy, and deviants know in their hearts they are being unholy and Satanic. Everybody (at least everybody relevant to this discussion) believes in God and Satan and has chosen a side in that fight. Therefore, the people who want alternate ways of life to your own are actually literally threatening and intentionally endangering you.

(Note: For anyone who’d like to see copious evidence, I highly recommend joining right-wing mail lists and news sites under a pseudonymous gmail account.)

26

bianca steele 03.29.10 at 1:52 pm

John H.,
This asymmetric situation somehow makes me think of the weird version of “boys chase the girls” we played in first grade. The boys decided they would include the fastest girl on their team, then the handful of fastest girls. Eventually more than half the girls were on the boys’ team and the rest of us spent half recess lobbying the fastest girl to let us participate in her special tryouts. It isn’t stable.

But your @12 sounds pretty strange to me. Is there so much of a difference in perception in and out of academia?

27

Salient 03.29.10 at 1:54 pm

Salient, are you planning to turn your “hobby” into a book project?

Kind of. I write stories, novels. Which means I want to think a lot about how various people live their lives, what their live experience is, and get to know them, how they speak, what they say, etc, and I’m especially interested in why people do things they wouldn’t normally do. Hence my interest.

Probably you had in mind a documentary, in which case, (1) I’m no good at writing that kind of narrative and (2) I know there are several other people working on that kind of thing, undercover and not-undercover both, so in a couple years there won’t be (or shouldn’t be) any dearth of such books.

28

Madeleine Conway 03.29.10 at 2:05 pm

Salient’s descriptions of tea-party events and their pet theory is pretty hair-raising to a liberal European. But just how large is this movement? Are there no centre-minded Republicans prepared to stand up and say that spitting at elected representatives, attacking them with verbal abuse and leaving coffins on their lawns or making outright death threats are not acceptable forms of dissent?

It’s hard to tell from an external perspective whether what is going on in the US is the work of a cuckoo minority or a genuine threat to the democratic processes of the country. But given the coverage we get, it does seem extreme and frightening that racism and homophobia have found such high-profile outlets that we hear about them across the Pond.

29

Substance McGravitas 03.29.10 at 2:20 pm

Are there no centre-minded Republicans

Good question.

30

Anderson 03.29.10 at 2:27 pm

normally vaguely conservative but apolitical women aged 40+

Fits my mother-in-law to a T — she was vituperative vs. Kerry and Obama, convinced that they would fail to protect the country and that her grandchildren would face some unspecified but horrible fate as a result.

31

Salient 03.29.10 at 2:32 pm

But just how large is this movement?

Not very.

Like, imagine if the fringe-most members of the BNP were really fired up for whatever reason and holding rallies all over the place. It would get news coverage disproportionate to the number of people involved.

Are there no centre-minded Republicans prepared to stand up and say that spitting at elected representatives, attacking them with verbal abuse and leaving coffins on their lawns or making outright death threats are not acceptable forms of dissent?

There are those who believe in the end-times, and those who profit from its continual appearance on the horizon.

But — the tea partiers I know have a very firm, strongly voiced commitment to work through the American process of free elections. I’m pretty sure the majority of them are sincerely, adamantly nonviolent.

It’s hard to tell from an external perspective whether what is going on in the US is the work of a cuckoo minority or a genuine threat to the democratic processes of the country.

Definitely the former. But the FBI might disagree with me.

The real problem is, lots of people stand to gain from amping up, encouraging, and riling up the tea partiers.

If it’s any consolation, the more events I attend, the less frightened I am. And the angrier I am at people who spouted end-times rhetoric in opposition to the health-care bill.

All that unbelievable rhetoric you hear from American conservative politicians like Michelle Bachmann? There’s plenty of people out here believing every word of it, and every word Glenn Beck says, and feeling horribly anxious and sick as a result. Thousands of people’s lives are being damaged by the anxiety being induced in them. The tea parties are basically a symptom of that.

These folks were led to believe — and yeah, they were credulous, but just because you’re a credulous person doesn’t mean you deserve to be duped — that Obama was The Big Move. They don’t know very much about politics or how things work, they didn’t understand how the primaries worked, all of a sudden here comes Obama rushing to victory, and these folks were basically led to believe he was propelled by the forces of evil. They don’t believe he is the Antichrist, but they are “worried” that he might be. And those fears are continually fanned and amped up by people who stand to gain from them (I blame Goldmine and other sellers of bulk gold in particular, they fund Glenn Beck’s show and have a financial interest in panicking people).

But given the coverage we get, it does seem extreme and frightening that racism and homophobia have found such high-profile outlets that we hear about them across the Pond.

I think the racist and homophobic aspects get overplayed. It’s more a fight of Good and Evil, of America the Christian nation and the forces who wish to undermine and destroy that (version of the) nation.

Before I started attending these events I thought they were basically an outcropping of the KKK (white supremacists). To be honest, I haven’t seen hardly anything to support that belief — people are terrified of The Evil and definitely believe gays to be part of the army of Satan (they wouldn’t use those words, that’s long outdated language), but I haven’t seen nearly so much overt racism as I expected.

32

Zamfir 03.29.10 at 2:38 pm

Salient’s descriptions of tea-party events and their pet theory is pretty hair-raising to a liberal European.

As another liberal European, I suspect European far-right parties sound just as scary to Americans. As far as I can tell, there is some similarity between the supporters of both. A large part of them on both sides of the pond has up to now never been really interested in politics, they feel threatened by bad things they didn’t deserve, and they blame others. In the US apparently the left first and foreigners second, in Europe it’s more foreigners first and the left second.

33

Salient 03.29.10 at 2:47 pm

Suppose you have a three party system: the Partisan Party, the Bipartisan Party, and the Tea Party.

The first of these parties enforces party discipline, the second does not. And the third isn’t really an organized political party. And your average Tea Party member is:

* A 60-something white woman who voted for the Partisan Party last time because they are pro-life, if she voted at all; who knows really nothing about politics; and who invited her two friends from some kind of social or hobby club to “find out what’s happening to us.” Is vaguely scared. Believes that Glenn Beck makes a lot of sense.

* A 40-something white militia guy who doesn’t really believe he’s about to be attacked, but enjoys playing his role. Has been a militia guy since like age ten, seriously. This is not a new thing for him. The substantial participation of women is new, but he’s cool with it. Glad to see they’re getting involved. Is vaguely confident, as always, and kinda collegial. Does not believe this is the end-times; this is just them liberals doing what they’ll do. We’ll throw ‘em out in 2010. Believes that Rush Limbaugh has always made a lot of sense.

I just can’t bring myself to feel threatened by the former, even with concerted effort. The latter aren’t gaining in numbers (so far as I know) and their general tendency is to hunker down defensively, not launch attacks (on the other hand, consider the recent plane attack on the IRS building — but this isn’t happening on any massive scale).

We should probably go back to discussing partisanship though. I done did enough derailing… Like, what makes something “bipartisan” in the sense we want to use the word: incorporating your political opponents’ ideas, or getting them to vote with you? In the case of the former, the Affordable Care Act was very bipartisan.

34

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.29.10 at 3:05 pm

There’s plenty of people out here believing every word of it, and every word Glenn Beck says, and feeling horribly anxious and sick as a result. Thousands of people’s lives are being damaged by the anxiety being induced in them.

Isn’t it possible that there’s a lot of anxiety and insecurity out there regardless, and it’s just the matter of who is going to capture and use it, and to what end.

35

Salient 03.29.10 at 4:07 pm

Isn’t it possible that there’s a lot of anxiety and insecurity out there regardless, and it’s just the matter of who is going to capture and use it, and to what end.

This is true, but in practice there’s really no upper bound to how much suffering one can experience from anxiety. That is, sure lots of people felt insecure and a little anxious, but now they’re being convinced to feel very very anxious, which is a much more painful daily life. It’s not just about capturing people’s anxiety; it’s about stoking and amplifying their anxiety.

Also true for “to what end” — as of two years ago, it was being tapped by local churches in order to get volunteers for the church garden maintenance task force, or for trips in a school bus to go see the movie Expelled in a theater and have a discussion afterward, or whatever. As of two years ago, people weren’t anxious about the fact that their church had a “social justice” mission, or ceasing to donate to their church’s food pantry because “that’s socialism.” I don’t know how widespread these particular changes are — working off anecdata here — but they’re happening in this neck of the woods, and they’re destructive to community life, and they’re being actively stoked by people and companies whose financial interests align with heightened panic & anxiety.

36

Salient 03.29.10 at 4:36 pm

Oops.

Above, I said this: “So they’re emboldened, and so they’re making their move to destroy America.”

That was meant to represent the tea partiers’ vision of what emboldened Democrats are doing — i.e. they feel the Democrats are emboldened and making a move to destroy America — not meant to be my description of the tea partiers. Rereading it, I see the ambiguity might’ve confused some folks. Sorry.

37

Jordan DeLange 03.29.10 at 4:47 pm

All the proposals of the Partisan Party will be bipartisan … None of the proposals of the Bipartisan Party, on the other hand, will ever be bipartisan … Result: the Partisan party, thanks to its unremitting opposition to bipartisanship, will be able to present itself as the party of bipartisanship, and be able to critique the Bipartisan Party, with considerable force and conviction, as the hypocritically hyperpartisan party

There might be a distinction to be drawn here between the Partisan’s party’s proposals and the Partisan party itself. The Partisan’s parties proposals would, on this measure, be viewed as bipartisan, just as the Bipartisan parties proposals would be viewed as partisan. However, the Partisan party itself would still come off looking partisan: none of their members ever cross the aisle, while the Bipartisan party as a party would still come off looking bipartisan: some of their members cross the aisle.

So, lets just say, the Bipartisan party is in the majority and passes various of their major pieces of legislation, always with some defections from their side but generally none from the other. Then the Bipartisan party’s proposals – the only things that actually come up for votes – would be viewed as thoroughly partisan, but the Partisan party itself would still be viewed as, well, the partisan party.

38

LizardBreath 03.29.10 at 5:04 pm

Isn’t this very similar to the pre-Civil War political situation in the US? Republicans were a ‘regional’ party, because there were Democrats in the North and Democrats in the South, but there were no Republicans in the South. The fact that there was no political opposition to slavery at all in the South made the pro-slavery party look like a broader, more accepting party than the anti-slavery party.

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Flag 03.29.10 at 5:06 pm

Perhaps the “bipartisan” party is undisciplined because it is merely a collection of interests groups with a core interest that only resonates with about 20% of the voting public. Therefore to remain a majority, indeed a viable party at all, the bipartisans must recruit many partisans and run them as bipartisans.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.29.10 at 5:07 pm

You have to look at whom the word “bipartisan” is meant to persuade. It is meant to persuade harried people that everything is all right, even if they don’t have the time to study issues.

The word “bipartisan” worked for decades as a rhetorical signal in the newspapers that everyone in Washington had come to an agreement (secretly read: everyone in Washington had cut a deal.) “Bipartisan” sounded like it must be good for the U.S. — so you, Joe and Josephine Sixpack, didn’t have to worry about it. “Bipartisan” was a way to save time.

Right now, it is mostly aimed at voters who list themselves as “independents.”

First, some basics of political strategy: In the U.S., the hardcore right and left are both 35%. That totals 70%, leaving 30% in the middle. Another 20% out of that middle are fairly reliable team players, half Repub and half Dem, so the parties can each rely on about 45% support in elections. The 10% truly remaining in the middle are the “independents.” They have been deciding the outcome of most elections. (We can argue over the exact percentages, but I’ve never seen an analysis that disputes this general pattern.)

This independent 10% who will determine the next election are NOT independent because they are thinking about things more than everyone else! In fact they do not have more time than other people. Polling data shows they are often swung at the last minute by perceptions of “honesty,” or perceptions of comity-making “bipartisanship.” In short, they are muddlers-along.

That’s why the Repubs keep hitting the meme, “healthcare reform wasn’t a bipartisan process.” You see and hear it all the time. It’s meant to keep the independents on their side, and to distract them from details.

(It is of course a lie, since Dems included a lot of Republican ideas, but failed to get Repub support because the Repub leadership decided to try to give the Dems a black eye, to try to take over the government again. The result is a purely centrist law.)

And it is probably not going to work in this case. Before ACA became law, polls consistently showed 50 to 70% of the people saying they didn’t know what in was in the bills. That’s good for the Dems, because similarly, in other polls, 50 to 70% of the people are in favor of the separate details when explained to them.

They are about to start finding out. The small-town papers will start to look at the specifics of the law. This process will take two or three months.

The Repubs have threatened a “repeal and reform” campaign — although that would appear to necessitate a discussion of details, and I just can’t imagine this will go well for them! But it certainly looks like they hope to win the next election with a sort of mishmash, by combining “repeal and reform” with the “bipartisanship” complaint, plus one other meme: “creeping socialism.”

The Dems should not be passive in any of this.

The present moment marks a watershed for the Dems: Healthcare is, as Teddy Kennedy said, really the last thing the United States had to fix. The Dems really don’t want to socialize capital and consumer markets — there, equality can be a bad thing. Perhaps it is time to make this explicit, and it should be easy, because Dems do quite well in markets. So the “creeping socialism” meme can be fought, too, because it ends here. It could defuse a little of the teabag emotions over some glacial period of time. (Though aome real glaciers may melt, first.)

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Lee A. Arnold 03.29.10 at 5:11 pm

some real glaciers, bleary-eyed

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b9n10nt 03.29.10 at 5:42 pm

Jamey:

If anyone can make an a serious argument as to why bipartisanship should be an end in itself, I’d like to hear it.

The laws so-acheived would be more temporally stable. The ACA stands a stronger likelihood of repeal because it wasn’t quantitatively bipartisan.

That’s the argument. Which to me sounds very similar to the idea that means-tested social programs like welfare (~ to partisan bills) fare less well over time whereas general programs like social security (~ bipartisan bills) endure.

That’s the argument, for what it’s worth.

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Josh R. 03.29.10 at 6:02 pm

“So anyway. Every single tea party attendee I’ve ever met is a conservative Christian.”

Salient, thank you for your many posts. i wanted to ask about this quote thought: from some of the journalistic accounts I’ve seen, there appears to be some potential, and perhaps some actuality, of a division between Ron Paul-libertarian Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin-conservative Christian Tea Partiers. Have you seen that? I think it may depend on geography (i.e. west/south-west may have a stronger Paul contingent).

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mds 03.29.10 at 8:09 pm

from some of the journalistic accounts I’ve seen, there appears to be some potential, and perhaps some actuality, of a division between Ron Paul-libertarian Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin-conservative Christian Tea Partiers.

Erm, given that Ron Paul is himself a conservative Christian, who has repeatedly espoused using the federal government to enforce socially conservative Christian values on the general population, this is probably not the dividing line you’re looking for. There might be some fractiousness with any genuinely social and economic libertarian contingent, but this goes back to Salient’s observation that those people aren’t a noticeable part of the movement on the ground. If the Cato and Reason crowd cheer these folks on, they tend to do it from the skyboxes.

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Salient 03.29.10 at 8:27 pm

a division between Ron Paul-libertarian Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin-conservative Christian Tea Partiers

I think that would basically be distinguishing my second bullet point above from the first.

Have you seen that?

Nope. They get along fine around here. I could say something much stronger than that, in fact, but it would be giving away rather precise details about my geographic location, so I’ll refrain. I guess I can go so far as to say mds is correct about Ron Paulistas being essentially a subset of right-wing Christiandom, or at least they’re compatible.

(And the point mds made about the Cato-types definitely holds. I’m almost always the only person at a rally with a master’s degree or further in formal education, unless it’s a larger rally where I don’t get to talk to everyone and verify this kind of thing from chit-chat. I’ve learned to stop mentioning my education when people ask, because it gets me viewed with suspicion. I think the Cato-types cheer on the tea party movement the same way Victorian artists cheered on farmers in pastoral works.)

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StevenAttewell 03.29.10 at 8:34 pm

First of all, great piece. I’ll be citing it in an upcoming piece about how transforming the Senate’s rules also requires transforming the caucuses’ rules to create real parliamentary discipline.

However, I wonder if there isn’t a few more variables potentially out there.

For example, you could have a party with high discipline which is ideologically close to center, a party with high discipline which is ideologically extreme, a party with low discipline which is close, and a party with low discipline which is far.

The high-discipline/ideologically close party might create more bipartisanship when it’s in power and less when it’s not, because it might enforce discipline when in opposition while still attracting more folks when it’s not. The same discipline but with more ideological extremism might create less bipartisanship when in power and when not, because its bills are going to be further away from the leading edge of the other party.

And so on.

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Laurel 03.29.10 at 10:28 pm

I think the Cato-types cheer on the tea party movement the same way Victorian artists cheered on farmers in pastoral works.

I really like this description.

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Joshua Holmes 03.30.10 at 2:58 am

To add to Salient’s excellent observations:

Most of the conservative Christians involved believe in the “Left Behind” eschatology. That is, they believe that the world will enter a seven-year period marked with troubles and ending with natural disasters on a scale never seen before. Jesus Christ will come to Earth and take the living Christians with him close to this time (some believe before, some during, some after). Then Christ will establish a literal 1000-year reign on the Earth before the Final Judgment, the destruction of the universe, and the creation of a new universe without sin, which Christians will rule with God.

Not only that, but they believe the seven-year period is starting very soon, and many are amazed it hasn’t begun already. These folks obsess over the minutiae of Bible prophecies, looking to tie obscure Bible passages to historical happenings. The re-creation of Israel really lit a fire under them, since Israel is mentioned repeatedly in End Times prophecy. And while these folks aren’t finely-schooled, they do tend to possess a massive knowledge of the Bible, and an ability to argue its minutiae and tie it to world events.

So, it’s beyond Good and Evil. These people are literally waiting for the end of the world and the appearance of Jesus. The increasing pressure on Israel, the charismatic president who is an Other, and the economic crash all look like signs that the end of time is here. And they’re restless.

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Kenny Easwaran 03.30.10 at 3:00 am

I wonder how much the Ron Paul types really are a subset of conservative Christians. Maybe the type has moved on, but I remember from late 2007 seeing plenty of Ron Paul stickers scattered around Berkeley. I have friends of friends that are Ron Paul supporters and yet have never been affiliated with any sort of Christianity and yet were very moved by the worries about fiat currency and the Federal Reserve. Even though Ron Paul himself is a Christian anti-choicer, many of his followers seem to be real libertarian types.

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Cosmo 03.30.10 at 4:42 am

Wait, this is about Congress? I thought we were talking about the right-left split on the Supreme Court.

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Reality 03.30.10 at 5:03 am

I can’t speak to Salient’s experiences, but, just for the record, I am an agnostic, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control independent with a graduate degree from Harvard who cannot stand watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh for more than 30 seconds who has attended a half-dozen or so Tea Party rallies because I am worried about our country’s increasingly precarious financial situation.

My experience (at least at the events I’ve attended) is that there is, in fact, a broad swath of ideological viewpoints represented at Tea Party events. If there’s a common thread, its concern over governmental overreach, not the caricatures described above. And the reasonable people-to-kooks ratio is considerably lower than Salient suggests, at least where I live (the mid-Atlantic).

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Charlie 03.30.10 at 12:46 pm

All the proposals of the Partisan Party will be bipartisan

I’m with #37: I’m not sure this is right. ‘Bipartisan’, said of a legislator, surely expresses an attitude of that legislator: that is, he or she is willing to depart from the party line. We look for evidence that he or she has actually done so, or has at least said things suggestive of bipartisanship. Attached to legislation, ‘bipartisan’ surely has to mean something like this: bipartisan attitudes / behaviours determined the character of this bill. That someone crossed the floor isn’t enough to make a bill bipartisan.

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Stuart 03.30.10 at 1:03 pm

Perhaps it would be more accurately formulated: All the proposals of the Partisan Party will attract bipartisan support, or something along those lines?

I think people naturally understand this, but obviously if you want to show something else than the truth then by formulating statistics that sound like they are a way to evaluate something like this objectively it is possible to do so in such a way as to be completely misleading. But that is true of almost all statistics.

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ogmb 03.30.10 at 1:52 pm

Conclusion: two measures of partisanship/bipartisanship that you might think make good heuristic sense – 1) being able to get bipartisan support for your proposals; 2) being opposed to those who can’t get any bipartisan support for their proposals – in fact aren’t good heuristics.

After re-reading this last night, I should amend that the problem you point out is not one of bad metrics, but simply one of conflating definitions: if a partisan caucus is one that doesn’t allow its members to vote with the opposing side and a bipartisan caucus is one that does, you get a bipartisan voting coalition made up of all partisan caucus members and the switchers from the bipartisan caucus and a partisan coalition of the remaining members loyal to the bipartisan caucus. Academic measures of partisanship–even the most rudimentary ones–measure partisanship of the caucuses, so this is really a problem of the punditsphere. And one of the Democratic leadership…

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mds 03.30.10 at 2:03 pm

And while these folks aren’t finely-schooled, they do tend to possess a massive knowledge of the Bible

Well, having emerged from premillenial dispensationalism partially because I read the Bible too much, I would say that this is not quite true. They tend to possess a massive knowledge of certain authors’ prophecy crib sheets, rather than the Bible itself, especially when it comes to the Gospels, or the non-Pauline epistles, or the minor prophets, or …. This is part of what Fred Clark repeatedly notes at Slacktivist: that much of End Times theology is either constructed out of whole cloth, or requires extensive cherry-picking. E.g., Tie current events to passages from the first half of the Book of Ezekiel, and never touch the second half.

Your analysis of how all this causes them to view the world, though, is spot on, Mr. Holmes.

I have friends of friends that are Ron Paul supporters and yet have never been affiliated with any sort of Christianity and yet were very moved by the worries about fiat currency

So … replace “the Bible” with “an economics textbook,” then see above.

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Salient 03.30.10 at 3:50 pm

Yeah, as much as I appreciate Joshua Holmes’ comments, I have to admit that 99.9% of the people I’ve met at rallies are not themselves conspiratorial so much as susceptible to conspiracy. As in, they’re vaguely conservative and credulous.

They’re not actively putting puzzle pieces together; they just kinda know that people here and there, like Glenn,^1^ are off somewhere putting together the vast evil puzzle. They’re scared by it, and some of them memorize the take-away lines from folks like Glenn (the degree to which they do this seems inversely proportional to age) but they don’t understand it or pursue it themselves.

I mean, a heck of a lot of them are in Bible study every week, but not anything at all like what J.H. described. These folks, in the main, don’t know a whole heck of a lot of those details, or pursue them. What mds said about crib sheets seems more accurate to me.

Many of the tea partiers literally do spend more time in social hobby clubs than reading conspiratorial literature (and most of that is emails or websites sent to them over email chain forwards, which they usually just skim and don’t really investigate). Some of this is changing — like, a group of women from the tea party in [redacted] are forming book clubs to read Glenn Beck’s book.

I think of it as maybe 0.01% of the crowd are actively conspiratorial, each in their own unique way, and the rest vaguely follow along with it, agreeing with the general sense that lots of people are doing complicated, impossible-to-follow, conspiratorial and horrible things. There’s usually like at most one or two actively conspiratorial guys at a meeting (always male, and if there’s two they usually end up disagreeing over some arcane detail and shrugging it off and shutting up — they don’t like receiving information they didn’t already know, even if it’s information they will later use themselves in their arguments!)

More generally, there’s a lot of sentiment like ‘well I don’t really understand any of this but it’s obvious something horrible is going on.’ Those folks don’t assess the details for credibility. (And even if they did, what would they compare it to? What basis for comparison do they have?)

^1^First rule of fitting in at tea party rallies. Go by first names of the big-name media figures like they’re your friends: Glenn, Sarah, and (if you want to hang with the militia crowd) Rush.

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Salient 03.30.10 at 3:52 pm

Maybe the type has moved on

Not at all, you’re correct. We were calling those folks Cato-types, to distinguish them. In my experience these folks generally don’t attend tea party events (in the same way that a pastoral poet didn’t generally actually attend harvest celebrations).

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Heur 03.30.10 at 5:54 pm

Great post, and very tidy analysis. But I think it misses an assumption used with the “presence/absence of opposing party votes” test heuristic, namely that both parties are largely alike in their legislative discipline and tactics.

If they are unalike, and the GOP actually is as disciplined as the Partisan Party, then, according to your model, they should have been long since perceived as more bipartisan than the Democrats. But I doubt that is the case. So either the Republicans are not as disciplined as the Partisan Party, OR the discipline of the Partisan Party does not cause a perception of actual bipartisanship.

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Substance McGravitas 03.31.10 at 12:02 am

Recent news:

Fox News recently interviewed the ex-wife of Hutaree Militia leader, David Brian Stone, who was recently arrested for plotting against police men in Michigan. When asked what set Stone off, his ex wife said it was the election of Barack Obama and the fact that Stone was a Ron Paul fanatic who thought the government would try and take away his guns.

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David 03.31.10 at 7:19 am

Salient: “I know there are several other people working on that kind of thing, undercover and not-undercover both.”

The Man Who Was Thursday, much?

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Salient 04.01.10 at 3:10 pm

The Man Who Was Thursday, much?

:-)

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