The parties are supposed to disagree

THE PARTIES ARE SUPPOSED TO DISAGREE…. I’ve never held House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in high regard. But I couldn’t agree more with something he said this morning.

Despite White House overtures for congressional Republicans to work with Democrats, the top GOP official in the House said Sunday that such opportunities are limited.

“There aren’t that many places where we can come together,” House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”

Republicans were elected to stand by their principles, and those principles are different than the “leftist proposals” offered by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, Boehner said. […]

“Leadership is about standing on your principles and opposing those policies that we believe are bad for the country,” Boehner said.

What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing (except the part about President Obama pushing “leftist proposals,” which is a silly assessment).

While I didn’t see the exchange, if this report is accurate, Boehner argued that Republicans intend to push their ideas, and oppose the policies they find offensive. The goal for congressional Republicans isn’t to find “common ground” or “bipartisan solutions” with those they completely disagree with; their goal is to fight for what they believe in, opposing the majority’s agenda.

The remarks should make it pretty clear that Republicans have no interest in working with Democrats on finding solutions to pressing policy challenges. But here’s the thing that so often gets lost in the discourse: Republicans are the minority party, which means it’s their job to oppose the majority’s agenda.

“There aren’t that many places where [the two parties] can come together”? Well, no, of course not. Democrats and Republicans perceive reality in entirely different ways, and advocate for wildly different solutions to various problems (they don’t even agree on which problems exist).

But if Boehner’s right about this — and I believe he is — then why in the world is it incumbent on the Democratic majority to work with Republicans to find “bipartisan” answers to every question? If Boehner has no intention of “coming together” with Dems in the middle — a reasonable, albeit rigid, position — why must the political establishment maintain the fiction that the governing majority is doing something awful unless they bring the discredited minority on board with every proposal?

Ron Brownstein noted recently:

We are operating in what amounts to a parliamentary system without majority rule, a formula for futility.

In some respects, it’s even worse than that. In nearly all modern democracies, parties that win elections get a shot — they’re able to do what they want to do, putting their party platform to work. If the policies are effective and voters are satisfied, the parties are rewarded. If not, they’re punished.

The job of the minority party (or minority parities) in modern democracies is not to stop the majority from governing. Indeed, the very idea is practically absurd. Rather, minority parties consider it their job to criticize the majority, tell the electorate how they’d be doing things better, and hope voters agree when the next election rolls around.

But we’re dealing with expectations and procedural tools in the U.S. that are inherently foolish. We can elect one party to lead, and then give the minority party the ability to stop the majority from leading. Worse, the political establishment tells voters — and the public agrees — that the majority is doing something intrinsically wrong if they advance policies that the minority disagrees with.

Boehner left no doubt this morning that he and his party don’t want to work with Democrats on shaping legislation. That’s fine. But with that in mind, can we let go of the ridiculous notion that Democrats are on the wrong track unless Boehner likes their ideas? And more importantly, can we abandon the absurd procedures that allow a small minority party to prevent the legislative process from functioning?