No way to run a political party

NO WAY TO RUN A POLITICAL PARTY…. Party discipline among Democratic lawmakers has long been something of a joke. Part of this is the result of party norms and traditions — insert obligatory Will Rogers reference here — and part of this is the result of a structure that helps dictate party decision making.

Matt Yglesias flags an interesting quote from Sen. Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut, who was asked whether Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) would face retribution for his willingness to side with Republicans in blocking a vote on health care reform.

“No, no, no. People are going to be all over the place,” [Dodd] said when asked if Lieberman should be punished. “The idea that people are going to be reprimanded because somehow they have a different point of view than someone else is ridiculous. That isn’t going to happen.”

I think that’s backwards. Political parties that expect loyalty from caucus members tend to be more effective and have more success advancing their agenda. And as a rule, party loyalty isn’t the result of polite pleas and gracious appeals — politicians tend to be more loyal to their party when they know their party has the means and the will to punish them. If those who are disloyal face no consequences — indeed, if they’re rewarded despite their recalcitrance — it encourages less fidelity.

In the Lieberman example, we have a politician who routinely ignored the party’s priorities when he was, in fact, a Democrat. He did so, not because he represented a conservative “red” state that forced him to the right, but because he was actually pretty conservative. In 2006, he was defeated in a primary, and proceeded to run against the Democratic Party’s candidate. In 2008, Lieberman spent the better part of the year trashing the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee and working to keep the White House in Republican hands. In 2009, his two most notable accomplishments have been holding a nonsensical hearing about “czars” and announcing his intention to support a Republican filibuster of the top domestic policy priority of the Democratic Party of the last 70 years.

Is it really so “ridiculous” to think Lieberman might face some consequences from his party in response to his conduct?

Matt had a good piece a couple of weeks ago about the nature of political parties. “The Senate Republican caucus is organized, like the House caucuses of both parties, like a partisan political organization whose objective is to advance the shared policy objectives of the party. The Senate Democratic caucus, by contrast, is organized like a fun country club trying to recruit members. Join Team Democrat and Vote However You Want Without Consequence! But it’s no way to get things done.”