Photo from Huffington Post
LET’S PARTY IV:
MULTIPLICATION BY DIVISION
It’s 24 days before the national election—do you know where your party is? No? Well, you’re not alone. By any measure, the
2016 presidential campaign is of historic proportion. It may yet prove of historic consequence.
Certain to be characterized by words like acrimony and incivility, the 2016 presidential race will take its place in history as the first
time a woman carried the banner of a major political party into the battle for the White House.
Whether or not Secretary Clinton is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the glass ceiling hanging over American
politics for 240 years has been shattered. The 2016 election will also go down in history as among the meanest of modern times.
In the minds of many, this will be called the Neverland election. As in:
Only after the dust of the campaigns settles, and a new President is sworn in and the 115th Congress is gaveled to life, will the historic significance of the 2016 elections even begin to be known. The next chapter has yet to be written—the last to be finished.
IN THE BEGINNING
The 2016 election cycle started traditionally enough. Secretary Clinton tossed her fedora into the ring, to the surprise of no one. It had long been the bet of everyone she was next in the Democratic line. An old goat socialist from Vermont challenged the heir apparent but was never thought threatening—until he was.
Bernie Sanders? He’s not even a Democrat. What is a Socialist anyway? Never heard of him. Well, it should at least make the race more interesting, for a while.
Bernie Sanders? He won’t make it past the Super Tuesday primaries—my daffodils will bloom before that guy does. Bernie Sanders? #Neverheardofhim.
The Republican primary saw 17 hats in the squared presidential circle. Candidates representing Party royalty, sitting governors and senators, business executives, even a distinguished surgeon. Sure to keep things interesting—was the entrance of an ego maniacal TV star.
Who do you think the Republicans will put up against her? Hard to tell—there are certainly plenty to choose from. Think Bush will carry on the family name and make it a 3fer? Maybe, although I hear that Senator Rubio from Florida is one of the real up and comers—would be good to have some youth on the ticket.
True enough—an Hispanic Tea Party guy—don’t come across them too often. Better than that Cruz fella’ anyway. He sure has beady eyes. Say, didn’t his father help to kill Kennedy or something—maybe that’s why he’s a Republican— ya think?
I don’t know about Rubio though—he sure pulled a boner at the last convention. How could he have said “we chose more government instead of freedom?” What the hell’s that even mean? C’mon—cut the little guy some slack.
Well, I may not know who the candidate will be —but I know who it won’t be. That guy Trump—he’s sure got a pair of cajones--must be doin’ it to boost the ratings of that show of his—you know the Intern or something?
C’mon man, gimme a break—who’s gonna vote for a fat guy with orange hair and little fingers? Is he even a Republican? Never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. #NeverGonnaHappin’.
POST THE 2016 ELECTION: NOW WHAT?
A wise man once said: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Although speaking of a different American pastime, the phrase certainly describes the game of politics.
This election cycle will be studied by scholars for decades to come. Little of what happened was expected and little of what’s to come can be anticipated with much certainty.
With two candidates as disliked and mistrusted as Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, it cannot be said of the victor: they won a majority of either the hearts or minds of the electorate. The outcome itself will be the product of opposites: feelings of affection/repulsion towards the candidate; acceptance/rejection of the established order; positive/negative views of the economy; seeing the glass as half empty/full; or, the struggle between progressive/regressive policy solutions.
Candidate personalities and contretemps aside, the one sure takeaway from the 2016 presidential race is the deep-seated antipathy exhibited by voters—on both the right and left—towards the establishment. Years of gridlock and the growing economic divide between the classes have created countervailing tensions now threatening the peace of the polity.
The populist die has been cast. That constituents appear conflicted, by supporting both far-right and further left visions for America, is of secondary importance.
Demand for a functioning government grows louder, even as the function of government is debated. Of the many outcomes post the 2016 election, the least likely is flashback by the Republican and Democratic parties to pre-election equilibriums. To go back is to accept a government in gridlock.
The rise of Sanders and Trump gave witness to the rejection of a do-nearly- nothing Congress. Rather than going back, voters overwhelmingly demonstrated their willingness to take the risk of untested leadership and embraced populist agendas.
The principal question facing the nation remains: how to end the gridlock? To answer the question, it is necessary to understand the problem.
IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: POLARIZATION IS THE PROBLEM
Congressional gridlock is a function of two principal factors: increasingly divergent theories of governance; and, the decreasing ability of party leaders to negotiate any compromise. Appropriations by Continuing Resolution—rather than the passage of annual legislation—belies conflicts between theories of governance and bespeaks failures in leadership.
According to Jonathan Chait, the system worked (in the past) because the ideology of the two parties overlapped heavily, but polarization has turned the mechanism designed by the Founders into a doomsday machine. Even now, Paul Ryan’s agenda for the nation may be seen to overlap principles and programs that would be supported by a President Hillary Clinton.
Ryan, for example, has proposed expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to childless workers. The EITC is a refundable tax credit available only to low-income wage earners with children. It is a popular and proven way to supplement wages of working people near the poverty line.
Ryan’s version of the extension is quite similar to proposals by President Obama and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla). It has been called a legislative proposal a functioning political system could realistically accomplish through compromise.
Other reforms that could earn bi-partisan support include giving judges greater discretion when sentencing non-violent criminal offenders. Mandatory sentencing has proven poor punishment in many cases.
It is expensive for the state and forgetful of fairness. A proposal allowing judges to consider the totality of circumstances at sentencing would likely be supported by Speaker Ryan, Senators Lee (R-UT) and Durbin (D-IL) and find favor with a President H. Clinton.
A fully functioning political system values collaboration, at least as much as dogmatic doctrine, and recognizes compromise as a core operating principle. Gridlock is the inevitable consequence of unyielding discourse. Effective governance is a team sport no longer played in the halls of Congress or on other political fields.
Jonathan Rauch’s essay in the July/August edition of the Atlantic attempts to identify the source of Congressional gridlock. He suggests the art of the political deal has been lost for the want of dealmakers.
Perhaps a bit extreme in my characterization of his position, Rauch appears to long for the return of the enlightened despotism once practiced by machine politicians. Having grown up during the reign of King Richard J Daley, I can attest to the fact that there is something to be said in support of a political boss who believed: power is dangerous unless you have humility.
It is probably a good thing the era of Boss Tweed and T.J. Pendergast is over. Lord Acton wasn’t far off the mark concluding that power corrupts and absolute power does an even better job of it.
Rauch isn’t so much suggesting we bring back the bosses, as he is pointing out nothing defeats collective bargaining like the lack of party discipline and a negotiator’s inability to speak for the group. I am sure that John Boehner (R-OH), would attest to the importance of party unity to the effectiveness of a Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Irreconcilable intra-party factions doom a deal from the beginning—the proverbial herding of cats. I’ve long held the opinion that Yasser Arafat’s failure as a peacemaker was his inability to commit Islamists and the more extreme factions of the PLO to any agreement he and the Israelis might negotiate.
A negotiator without the internal standing to make good on a commitment, is just making idle conversation. Boehner described the problem as a crisis in followership—not leadership.
Rauch has correctly observed that narrow interest groups and purist factions, led by grandstanding politicians, are becoming ever more dominant on Capitol Hill. Accountable to a very narrow group of interests, they have the power to prevent legislation—not to pass it.
The ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus is the near perfect paradigm of a faction with the power of NO. The Caucus’ avowed goal is to push Republican
House leadership to the right. Its current membership numbers around 36, with the goal of adding 20 to 30 new members at the start of the 115th Congress.
Members of the Freedom Caucus, like Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) are the darlings of the Breitbart constabulary--sharing Steve Bannon’s deep dislike of Speaker Ryan and committed to drastically reduced federal budgets. The Caucus needs only 29 nay votes in the current Congress to defeat most legislation. Already setting their sights on derailing Ryan’s run for Speaker of the new Congress, they look to support nativist immigration laws and the total repeal of Obamacare.
Faction affliction is not limited to the Republican Party. Although appearing less acute at the moment, tensions within the Democratic Party continue to run high. Under the titular lead of Senator Sanders, progressives are placing the Party of FDR and JFK on a parallel path to the Party of Lincoln Trump. Internal conflicts will eventually threaten party cohesion.
Ms. Clinton remains unpopular with Sanders’ progressives. Their support of her candidacy is more practical than philosophical. The temporary peace will surely be tested in the event of her victory.
Clinton is by nature a practical politician and willing to compromise to achieve acceptable outcomes. Although I find this a desirable trait in a President, compromise surely requires a softening of stridency. When purity of policies is the point, collaboration is often the enemy.
The first time a President Clinton even considers approving a new pipeline in return for Republican support of easing siting restrictions for solar installations on federal lands, progressives will see this as a betrayal of trust. The tensions between the populists of the Party and its establishment politicians have been put aside out of convenience not conviction.
Intra-party conflicts between more narrowly focused purist factions and establishment forces will not go away once the 2016 election is over. Philosophical differences are the hardest of all political conflicts to mediate.
When philosophies conflict, the goal changes from compromise to conversion. It is no longer enough for “you to accede to my point; you must also accept my values.” Rarely can there be resolution of such conflicts.
A party at war with itself lacks the cohesion required to collaborate. The failure to collaborate leads to gridlock. In the shade of such irreconcilable differences, divorce is not only inevitable, it is to be preferred.
This is the first of the last two installments of the Let's Party Series. Look for the second part to be posted on tomorrow- Oct. 25.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.