Divided, and perhaps that’s good

The American political scene is divided and partisan. Matthew Yglesias says that might be the point (where’s Hegel when you need him?):

Is partisan politics better than the alternative? Why do we grouse, then, about a divided country?

Political partisanship is kind of like representative democracy itself—a terrible mess, but clearly superior to the alternatives. After all, we don’t need to guess at what representative democracy without political parties would look like. Just examine almost any American city council—be it New York, DC, Chicago, San Francisco, whatever—and you’ll see a legislative body that’s so overwhelmingly Democratic that partisan politics don’t drive outcomes. The result of this isn’t a utopia of good government and sound policy, it’s an orgy of hyper-localism. Political parties are organized, for better and for worse, around clashing visions of what’s better for America. The quest for partisan advantage is, among other things, a quest for the opportunity to build a better society. Absent parties you get a situation where instead of a clash of visions of what would be best for the city as a whole, council members give undue preference to strong local interests. In city government, that means NIMBYism. In Congress it would mean endless gobs of the much-derided pork barrelling.

Tim Carney did a good piece recently pointing out that it’s the “moderate” members of congress who are often the most corrupt, for this very reason. Strong partisan affiliations are what keeps legislatures adhering to some kind of principled vision, as opposed to merely using the powers of office for personal gain.

Hence, this piece from CNN about the threat of moving to Canada emerges from a desire for a one-party system, but that’s not good and it’s not what we’ve got:

(CNN) — It happens every four years, usually right around September.

Calls come in from all over the United States from people threatening to flee their homeland if a candidate they despise wins the Oval Office.

“That’s the amazing thing, when they speak on the phone. They’re adamant. They feel very, very strong about it,” said David Cohen, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer. “‘This government doesn’t speak for me’ is the language that we often hear.”

As a partner at the Campbell Cohen firm, which specializes in immigration to Canada, Cohen says he has received these calls for decades. It sometimes makes him “feel like a therapist because they vent for a while, get this cathartic release.”

But when it comes down to it, Americans don’t move to Canada unless it’s for a relationship or new job — essentially, love and money.

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  • Patrick

    I think divided government is awesome myself. I wish it was more rather than less divided.

  • Chuck

    I don’t have a problem with partisan government per se for all of the reasons mentioned above. A single party or coalition government situation would IMO be less desirable than what we currently have. However, I do not feel the same warm fuzzys regarding partisan gridlock such that the work of the people does not get done. It seems to me that we have had too much of this in the recent past.

  • Bob S.

    The more gridlock the better, in general – less damage that way. But, when both parties agree on things it’s normally not for the better. For instance, both appear to have no qualms with drones taking out anyone on a “hit list”. Ditto for pretty much any legislation disguised as “copyright/intellectual property protection”. There is actually a lot of agreement between both parties but neither wants to share the credit because it’s often shameful what they agree upon.

  • Adam

    This sums it up perfectly. 🙂


  • Tim

    That “love and money” tag line is a hoot!

  • I’d feel better if so much of the illusion wasn’t illusory. The Obama administration has basically been George W. Bush term 3. Gitmo is still open. No waterboarding, but constant drone strikes with massive civilian casualties. The Affordable Care Act, in addition to being written by Mitt Romney (before he ran for president and had to pretend he was against it), is congruous with Bush’s prescription drug plan for seniors. Both are military interventionists. Both are corporate-approved.

    As The Who said, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

  • er, rather, “I’d feel better is so much of the DIVISION wasn’t illusory.” Typo.

  • Rick B

    Much prefer a divded country. Having one party in control is frightening. What’s been so frustrating isn’t that we have different points of view but that we insist on our own way. What we have seen is the result of NOT wanting to live in a divided, pluralistic country, where a variety of needs are expressed and addressed.

  • RobS

    In the sense of different and strongly held opinions, it’s one thing. I think what wears on me (maybe others) more is the 24-hour news cycle that demands content. This demands I invite on a guest from each side, and they compete for sound bites. This creates opposition and distrust and makes any kind of “common good” efforts to reconcile hard.

    I’m waiting for the day when a Democrat can stand up and say, “We support making abortion legal for more extreme circumstances, but we recognize it’s not a good thing to celebrate in society, and we would like to help women get to the point where they’re not having to ever make that tough choice.” Likewise, a Republican to say something like, “We want to have strong defense and good tools for our soldiers, but if we audit the Dep’t of Defense and find waste or ways to control spending we will make cuts in select areas.”

    I think either would be good for the country, but it’s rare to see any elected official speak their mind w/o getting tossed under the bus by both sides immediately after the comment.

  • How about three, or even four parties? Still competing visions, just more of them. Yes, I’m Canadian ;-).

  • I think the idea of division being good is a grand form of spin and/or rationalization.
    This state of division is definitely not good and we will have to pay for it.
    “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
    And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
    And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”
    Mark 3:24-26

  • I think the idea of competing ideas is good. What concerns me is how many people have so much of their identity wrapped in a political party, or in being liberal or conservative. That identity then becomes a filter through which everything else is measured as good/bad, in/out. That is the problem

    Division can be very helpful but division without some point of unity is destructive.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    More division? More partisanship? More gridlock? We are actually saying “more” while we are possibly heading to falling off a fiscal cliff? Rather than the government, why not say this about communities? About churches? About families? If these things are bad and terrible in these other areas, I can’t understand the logic at all that it is good for our government. Shalom!