Michael Barone‘s latest column explains that much of the “hyperpartisanship” that’s causing political pundits’ tongues to wag these days stems from changes in political parties urged by the pundits of yesteryear.
I ascribe much of the partisan tone of today’s politics to two changes urged by the political scientists I studied in college nearly half a century ago.
One was the idea that we should have one clearly liberal and one clearly conservative party. This was a popular enough argument in the 1940s and 1950s that Gallup used to test it in polls.
Political scientists and sympathetic journalists were annoyed that there were lots of Southern (and some non-Southern) conservatives in the Democratic party and that there were a fair number of pretty liberal Republicans in big states like New York and California.
Wouldn’t it make more sense, they asked, to have all the liberals in one party and all the conservatives in the other? That way, they said, voters would have a clear choice and the winning party (the liberals, most of them hoped) would be able to enact its programs into law.
There are indeed rational arguments for this. For years Southern whites clung to the Democratic label because of memories of the Civil War, while many liberal Northerners supported Republicans because they disliked big city Democratic political machines. Neither party was ideologically coherent.
Today it’s clear that the prayers of the midcentury reformers have been answered. The Republican party is a clearly and nearly unanimously conservative party, while the Democratic party is the natural home for liberals.
As a result there are more party-line votes in Congress than there were half a century ago. There are fewer friendships and alliances across party lines. Parties with supermajorities can enact their programs (e.g., Obamacare) even in the face of hostile public opinion.