Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Bipartisanship used to be seen as a sign of dysfunction

From the end of World War II to roughly the end of the Cold War, American politics and policymaking was markedly different. The Democratic and Republican parties were internally diverse, with distinct factions that often did not agree with each other on fundamental issues. Liberal Northern Democrats, such as Senators Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale, had to contend with conservative Southern Democrats. In the Republican Party, conservative “Regular Republicans” had to contend with liberal Northeastern Republicans, like New York’s Jacob Javits and Massachusetts’s Edward Brooke (the “Rockefeller wing”). To pass anything, parties had to reach across the aisle to find willing partners from the other party—partners that changed depending on the issue.

On civil rights, for instance, to pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson relied on the votes of 25 Republican senators, including all 16 Northeastern Republicans, to end a filibuster by his fellow Southern Democrats. On economic policy, Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981 relied on the votes of 50 “boll-weevil” conservative Southern Democrats to pass his budget—and later tax cuts—through a Democratic House of Representatives.

To many, this cross-party dealmaking was a sign that American politics was broken. The American Political Science Association called for “responsible” political parties who could present a coherent platform, ostensibly be elected on it, and then implement its planks. Others lamented the seemingly intractable divided government—in which Republicans reliably controlled the presidency and the Democrats controlled the Congress—of the 1970s and 1980s, going so far as to call for four-year House terms so that members of Congress were tied to the presidential ticket. 

Beginning in the early 1990s, however, the political parties started to become more ideologically coherent and competitive, and the result was the broken policymaking we see today.
--Kenneth Baer, The Atlantic, on broken yesterday and broken today