Blame the Conservative Movement, Not Voters

I generally dislike blaming voters for the state of our politics rather than politicians (and judges) for the state of our voters, but David Wasserman does have a good point:

Here’s the truth: Washington is rigged, but not in a literal sense and not in any of the nefarious ways those loud voices are contending. Instead, the blame may lie more with voters than politicians: Our legislative process is not designed to withstand the current levels of partisan polarization in the electorate.

Voters’ vexation with standard-issue, do-nothing D.C. politicians and party elites helps explain the Trump and Sanders phenomena of 2016, and the “rigging” theories seem to arise out of that frustration and suspicion. Yet much of this anger with “insiders” is misdirected. If only our political problems were due to “rigging” elections, we could arrest someone and get on with it. But our problems are much more structural.

At a minimum, things have evolved in such a way that all the incentives for politicians are skewed toward pleasing their own base and riling them up to get donations. Most of the traditional punishments for being an intransigent bastard are no longer functional, or are swamped by fear of more compelling and immediate punishments.

Too often, though, people try to craft solutions to this problem by wondering how we can get politicians to stop believing in stuff and just agree to compromise on everything. This is how you get to the fallacious “both sides are equally to blame” argument. It’s not true. Only one party has given up on governing. The other party is willing to legislate, even when in the minority.

In other words, you can try redistricting reform or California-style elections or campaign finance reform, and those things may help on the margins. But it’s the ideology of the Conservative Movement that breaks Congress, and if they’re currently splitting apart and going the way of the Whigs, then a lot of this may eventually solve itself.

Of course, I lot of dishware can get broken between here and there.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.