More on Partisanship

Incentives matter.

Photo by SLT

Let me connect two of my recent posts. The first was a graph of Trump’s approval rating, which shows a remarkable amount of stability since just a short time after his inauguration. Apart from a fluctuation of a few points here and there, often within the margin of error, it had barely moved no matter what happens.

The second was about the lack of impartiality in the Senate as it pertains to the pending impeachment trial.

Both are about partisanship and the way in which it affects behavior–and more specifically the steadiness of public opinion noted in the first post helps explain the behavior of elected officials in the second post.

Any GOP Senator who wants to be reelected knows that they will have to first be re-nominated by a pro-Trump, anti-impeachment primary electorate. They then likely will be in a position to go on to safely be re-elected since they come from a state that leans Republican.

Further, their position on this topic will affect fundraising or even post-Senate jobs if they are planning on exiting in the near term. Consider: jobs in right wing media, in lobbying, in pro-Trump business circles could all be influenced by their behavior in office, and vote, on the impeachment question.

Never underestimate self-interest, nor the degree to which self-interest can be rationalized by a given individual as the morally correct thing to do.

Now, it is true, going back to the two posts, that the first post shows that a majority of the public does not approve of the president (and other polls show plurality support for impeachment), but here we get back to one of my favorite phrases: institutions matter. The Senate is, as we all know, not representative of the nation as a whole, and hence the pending outcome.

Primaries and geographic sorting drive the behavior of individual Senators and the institution itself skews representation of the population.

And remember: we are ultimately talking about mass political behavior in a system that creates strong incentives for voters making a binary choice: R or D, with that choice having profound identity issues. Changing partisan affiliation can happen, but not easily–and we are in a highly polarized environment.

See, also, this Monkey Cage post from Michael Tesler: The impeachment hearings haven’t changed public opinion. This explains why.

None of this is to say that these behaviors cannot be criticized, but there is a difference between explaining a behavior and assessing it.

FILED UNDER: Impeachment, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Kit says:

    From the Monkey Cage:

    And because the hearings didn’t reach the most easily persuaded Americans, their partisan interpreters reinforced preexisting and polarized views.

    That put me immediately in mind of this factoid: 99% of Fox viewers oppose impeachment. Put what institutions you like in place, a democracy cannot function without an informed electorate.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    What separates a civilization from failed states like Syria is not that the citizens of the former are saints compared to the latter, but rather that there are enough that are willing to adhere to and enforce a rule of law, even when using their power and authority to advance their own immediate interests would benefit them more. And this “enough” is not even usually a majority. Any given group of people have 5-15% who are forces for good, 5-25% who are forces for harm and the remainder are a gelatinous mass of followers. If you were merely saying that most Party members are g0-along, get-along types, with an unhealthy dollop of outright baddies mixed in, we would be in total agreement. Where we differ is in the acceptance of this as the inevitable and natural state of affairs. American civilization has grown and prospered as a result of that small but determined group that holds themselves and their fellow citizens to higher standards. You seem to imply that this group was unnecessary for our society to flourish as a law-based one. I contend that without them we would never had success.

    And your implied judgement that both Parities are the same in this is flat out wrong. Sure, most of both parties fall into the mushy middle or the outright bad. But (as I explained in the other thread) the percentage of virtuous elected Republicans has shrunk to the absolute minimum. And those that discover they have a moral conscience or feel a duty to the greater good almost without exception leave the party.

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  3. @MarkedMan:

    And your implied judgement that both Parities are the same in this is flat out wrong

    There is a huge, and very important, difference between making an observation about the way in which partisanship drives behavior and saying that all parties are the same.

    I will work to find a better way to express this, but I would ask that you try and understand what I am saying here.

  4. @MarkedMan:

    the percentage of virtuous elected Republicans

    On the one hand, I don’t necessarily disagree.

    On the other, you need to at least admit that part of your definition of “virtue” is based on your own normative preferences.

  5. @Kit:

    Put what institutions you like in place, a democracy cannot function without an informed electorate.

    Institutions can only do so much, true. But how they channel public preferences nonetheless matters one hell of a lot.

  6. Scott F. says:

    I am not trying to get anyone to like these facts, nor am I asking for normative consideration to be set aside. I am asking for a clear-eyed understanding about what it going on and where the the real fixes are (and to also recognize that we, as a country, are polarized on whether a fix is even needed).

    [Steven, you made this reply to me in the other thread, but I bring it over here because this post ties together nicely the key dynamics at play.]

    I am all for getting to “the real fixes” and it certainly is true that it is prerequisite to reach some agreement on whether a fix is needed before the hard work of repair can start. But, critical to any problem solving is determination of root cause and it’s here that I believe you have lost the thread.

    Why is the public so polarized now, when it wasn’t so 30 or 40 years ago? The institutions and the incentives were largely the same back then, but government and the society were more coherent than today. What has changed is the choices and behaviors of the Republican Party.

    The gist of Trumpism (authoritarianism, racism, nationalism, etc.) has always been present in the US. But, over long periods of our history, the forces that favor these -isms have been mostly held in check by what MarkedMan calls “that small but determined group that holds themselves and their fellow citizens to higher standards.” But, around the time of Gingrich, a choice was made to stop merely accepting this political force in the GOP governing coalition and to fully embrace the values. The constituency is basically the same. It is the leadership’s relationship with that constituency that has changed and the polarization followed.

    As a result, the real fix will require that leaders change the relationship again.

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  7. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will work to find a better way to express this, but I would ask that you try and understand what I am saying here.

    For what it’s worth, I also interpreted your comments in the other thread as asserting that there is essentially no difference in the extent to which Democratic vice Republican senators could be expected to vote party over nation/sanity/conscience. If that’s not what you meant, there was a nuance lost somewhere.

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  8. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Dr. Taylor, you expressed it. I actually missed it the first time through.

    It’s the last line in your post.

  9. MarkedMan says:

    @DrDaveT: Steven, what Dr Dave said. It sounds to me that you are saying one of three things, all equally wrong (IMO).

    1) The Republicans and Democrats are equally lost in partisanship. If Trump had a “D” after his name, there would have been zero Democratic votes to impeach and If Chuck Schumer controlled the Senate the impeachment trial would be just as much a sham

    2) The role of a few honorable men has no bearing on governance, so the fact that the Dems have a sprinkling of officials with a moral compass doesn’t alter the crushing path of time

    3) That the promotion of morality and ethics and the holding of people to their oaths is simply futile.

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    @Kurtz: In this thread and in the other Steven has stated that he is only trying to explain the motivations of partisans. But he actually takes it farther than that. He adds that we cannot expect people to behave differently (despite the fact that the public leaders we generate and admire are precisely those who did behave differently). And in the other thread he stated that it would be better to change the oath a Senator/Juror takes because they are only going to break it.

    Again, if he was simply explaining the motivations of all or most of the Congress critters, I would have no argument whatsoever. But he seems to be going quite a bit beyond that.

  11. Kit says:

    @MarkedMan:

    most of both parties fall into the mushy middle or the outright bad

    Each side has its own distinct mushy middle. Try imagining some future Democratic senator faced with the impeachment of his party’s president and simply saying nope because he knows he has the votes. One side’s middle respects reason, even if it is simply regurgitating. The other side respects power.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    you need to at least admit that part of your definition of “virtue” is based on your own normative preferences

    Actually I don’t and I won’t. Here’s a definition of virtue from dictionary.com:

    conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.

    Now, you may claim that it is moral and ethical to abandon the rule of law and to disregard justice because it benefits you personal and your tribe as a group, but I don’t. If Morality and Virtue have any meaning beyond “Team A vs. Team B” then someone like Doug Jones who will probably vote for conviction knowing full well that it will end his career as a Senator is demonstrably more moral and virtuous than a lying snake like Susanne Collins who will pretend to rend her garments and tear her hair in the throes of a weighty moral dilemma… before inevitably folding and voting exactly like the billionaires who pay for the wing nut welfare gravy train tell her to.

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Kit:

    Try imagining some future Democratic senator faced with the impeachment of his party’s president and simply saying nope because he knows he has the votes.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any trouble imagining it. I meant it when I said that most people just go along.

    I’ve said elsewhere that the difference between a decently run state and a failed Trump state like Mississsippi or Alabama is maybe 5-10 percent of voters.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    If anything Democrats are pathologically incapable of falling in line with a narrative, even when they should, especially when they should if their goal is political power. There are plenty of stupid Democrats, God knows, but tribal Democrats? Not so much. As @Kit points out above, the two parties want fundamentally different things.

    Republicans want power and don’t care what laws or moral values they trash in the process. Democrats want to help people who can’t help themselves, in effect to transfer power to people who have none. Republicans follow, Democrats wander. Republicans are incapable of self-examination, Democrats can’t stop navel-gazing. The prime Republican ‘values’ are conformity and obedience. Democrats primary values are justice and truth.

    And unlike Republicans, Democrats are not willing to commit treason.

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  15. Kurtz says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Hmm. I think that he is looking at the system level and you are criticizing individuals within that system.

    I doubt that many of us, including Steven, would disagree that the current version of the GOP is rotted. But I think there may be some of us around here that would fail to recognise it if the Dems followed a similar path. Maybe I’m wrong though.

  16. @Scott F.:

    Why is the public so polarized now, when it wasn’t so 30 or 40 years ago?

    I need to write more on this, but there are several variables:

    1) The breakdown of the post-Reconstruction party alignments (the 1994 “Republican Revolution” being the most significant event therein).

    2) The end of the Cold War as a party unifier.

    3) Demographic shifts.

    And other factors.

    The first one in particular has lead to the underlying problems with our institutions to amply the party divisions.

    But yes, the behavior of the GOP is a major problem.

  17. @MarkedMan:

    Now, you may claim that it is moral and ethical to abandon the rule of law and to disregard justice because it benefits you personal and your tribe as a group, but I don’t

    But, of course, that is not what I said.

    You realize that on a normative level, I largely agree with you, right?

    But you fully know that some Reps think that a) what he did wasn’t as bad as you and I think it was, and b) they think that getting pro-life judges are a moral good.

    Again: these posts have been about explaining behavior, not justifying it. I can’t claim to be a political scientist if all I do is rail about things I don’t like.

  18. @Kurtz:

    I think that he is looking at the system level and you are criticizing individuals within that system.

    Yup!!

    I doubt that many of us, including Steven, would disagree that the current version of the GOP is rotted.

    I can’t imagine I have given a different impression.

    But I think there may be some of us around here that would fail to recognise it if the Dems followed a similar path.

    There is little doubt that we (as a species) will frequently justify defending what we perceive of as our own.

    Look at the doctrinaire feminists who defended Clinton in the 90s.

    If a Dem president misbehaved, she would get a lot of defenders, especially if she was perceived as getting certain Dem goals accomplished.

    Do we really think that if the next Dem president was successfully reforming health care and getting the tax code aligned in a way that the Democratic party has wanted for decades that she couldn’t get away with a ton of nonsense (by which I mean unethical, maybe even illegal) behavior?

    Do we really think that the Dems in the Senate wouldn’t back her if 80% plus of the Dem electorate was supporting her?

  19. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I need to write more on this, but there are several variables:

    I look forward to reading more from you on this and, of course, you get to dictate the terms of your writing. But, just seeing that your short list of variables consists of societal events beyond the control of either party, I would hope you share some of your thoughts on GOP agency throughout the last three decades.

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You realize that on a normative level, I largely agree with you, right?

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean by you that sentence.

  21. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I need to write more on this, but there are several variables:

    I would really like to hear you (re)state what role you think the media has played (talk radio, cable TV, internet, et al), and how big money has (or has not) effected our current political climate.

    In a larger sense, I would find it very interesting to hear just which variables you feel are of primary importance, or at least the ones you feel fall within the scope of your field and interests. And I say this believing that you generally make an effort to express one specific point as clearly as possible.

  22. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @MarkedMan

    I had trouble responding because it seemed like the argument he claimed you made wasn’t exactly what you were saying or at least trying to convey.

    We are mostly in agreement here. I think what gets lost is that not only is assessing different from explaining, but that systems analysis can give people the impression that it excuses morally questionable behavior. Maybe a better way to put it is that it can make some people more reflexive than they normally would be.

    I don’t think many people, including many of his own voters, think McConnell is ethical or moral, but that their political goals are too important to let silly little things like honesty and consistency get in the way.

    The funny thing about all of this is the GOP doesn’t define itself in terms of Conservatism – – it defines Conservatism in terms of the Republican platform. That is the most dangerous aspect of the current times.

  23. @MarkedMan:

    He adds that we cannot expect people to behave differently (despite the fact that the public leaders we generate and admire are precisely those who did behave differently)

    If I said that, I misspoke (although I don’t think I said that). Could Romney or someone else buck partisanship? Yes, of course.

  24. @Scott F.:

    But, just seeing that your short list of variables consists of societal events beyond the control of either party

    Party is a reflection of society. As societal events take place, it affects party behavior.

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Polarization is a function of extremism on the Right. This began the day Republicans decided to push the line that abortion is murder. This made it impossible for Republicans who actually believe that extreme view to compromise with Democrats. Republicans who compromised were compromising with baby-killers.

    This, for Republicans, justified everything that followed. It is still the heart of the issue. Why obey the law when obeying the law protects baby-killers? Why not lie and cheat if it means stopping baby-killers? Why not deprive baby-killers of their right to vote?

    I’m not suggesting this is every Republicans motive, but it is their all-purpose excuse for vile behavior. Who cares if Trump is a corrupt, racist, woman-hating traitor so long as he puts anti-abortion judges on the bench? Republicans would pick an actual child-murderer who claimed to be pro-life over a saint who was pro-choice. And that is how we ended up where we are.

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  26. @MarkedMan:

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean by you that sentence.

    This may be part of the problem, as I have been using this formulation almost from the beginning.

    I mean that in terms of the value judgments you have been making, we are largely, if not totally, on the same page. We don’t disagree about the bad behavior of the GOP, for example.

  27. @Michael Reynolds:

    Polarization is a function of extremism on the Right.

    I agree that the right has shifted more extremely. But you can’t have polarization without two poles. We could have, for example, an extreme right pole and still have multiple kinds of lefts and a center.

    But, as I repeatedly stress, our institutions help shepherd us into two poles.

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Do we really think that the Dems in the Senate wouldn’t back her if 80% plus of the Dem electorate was supporting her?

    See, I was ready to concede we were in fundamental agreement and then you wrote this.

    You seem to be saying that there is no meaningful difference between how the Dems would react and how the Republicans are reacting. And I agree that 85-90% of Dems will go along to get along, leaving only 10-15% to raise the ethical level. But there is no equivalent 10-15% in the Republican Party. And that 10-15% is all that stands between us and a failed state. 10-15% is all we get. You are looking at the current mess and coming away with the most important thing being that “most politicians act in their own interest. Whereas I look at it and say “We have a two party system and one of those parties has driven every moral actor from its midst. It is debased and degenerate.” That’s the most important takeaway.

    Look, 50 years ago I would have expected that 10-15% in both parties. And if you went back another decade and looked at the other end of the spectrum, the 15-25% of outright baddies, I would believe that the balance could have favored the the Republicans. Heck, given that many Dixiecrats no doubt literally had the blood of innocents on their hands, the Dems might have exceeded that 25% threshold.

  29. @MarkedMan:

    If Trump had a “D” after his name, there would have been zero Democratic votes to impeach and If Chuck Schumer controlled the Senate the impeachment trial would be just as much a sham

    You mean like when Clinton was impeached and not a single Democrat voted to convict?

  30. Look, I need to go run some errands, but let me make one or two things clear:

    1. I am not defending the choices that the GOP is making here.

    2. I am not stating that the GOP does not deserve a heap of opprobrium for their behavior in a host of ways.

    3. Getting upset that I am pointing out how partisanship drives our government is like getting upset for a mechanic telling you how motor oil keeps the engine running.

  31. @MarkedMan:

    You seem to be saying that there is no meaningful difference between how the Dems would react and how the Republicans are reacting. And I agree that 85-90% of Dems will go along to get along,

    In terms of the population, that is about how many Reps are going along (one of the links I provided said about 10% of Reps think he should be impeached).

    If you don’t think most Dems would rationalize an unethical president if that president was perceived by most Dem voters are delivering on Dem policy priorities, then yes, we disagree.

    Again, Clinton proves my point, albeit with a different degree of unethical.

  32. @MarkedMan:

    You are looking at the current mess and coming away with the most important thing being that “most politicians act in their own interest. Whereas I look at it and say “We have a two party system and one of those parties has driven every moral actor from its midst. It is debased and degenerate.” That’s the most important takeaway.

    Honest question: do you not see that one observation is about empirical behavior and the other is a normative (i.e., value) judgment.

    One can make both, but one has to understand that they are distinct.

  33. @Steven L. Taylor:

    You are looking at the current mess and coming away with the most important thing being that “most politicians act in their own interest.

    And no, that is not accurate. I am coming away from ~25 years as a student of this stuff (plus centuries more in terms of observations of human politics) to note a fact of behavior needed for understanding.

  34. Kathy says:

    IMO. The Democratic party has better voters.

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  35. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: To bring Clinton equivalency into this is to claim that what he did is equivalent to what Trump did, which you know is ridiculous.

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  36. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am coming away from ~25 years as a student of this stuff (plus centuries more in terms of observations of human politics

    Astounding. Judging by your picture I would have pegged you as much younger….

    😉

  37. MarkedMan says:

    I think you and I have reached the end of constructive debate. I’ll think about what you said but it doesn’t immediately change my viewpoint.

    On a tangential topic, several times you mentioned in passing that the solution to this partisanship is systemic. What changes do you believe helpful, and are there any successful examples ?

  38. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Honest question: do you not see that one observation is about empirical behavior and the other is a normative (i.e., value) judgment.

    We are not scholars looking upon early 21st century American democracy as one of 1,000 political systems in the history of humanity. This is our system and it requires certain virtues in order to function properly.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    a fact of behavior needed for understanding.

    Does your understanding serve any ends beyond itself? Are you an empiricist simply noting the conditions? (Sorry, old chap, but your bones are broken and your organs are failing.) Or are you a doctor making a diagnosis in order to better offer your patient a course of treatment to make him better (a normative justement)? Can a democracy be healthy or sick, or is it always democracy until it no longer is?

  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: I would disagree with wrong on points 2 and 3. Consider the following:
    (On point 2) The fact of the Democratic party having a sprinkling of leaders with intact moral compasses may or may not be a crucial factor in arresting the downward spiral of the national ethos. That will depend on what degree people from the opposition party care about what that moral compass says is right to do. At this moment in time, the moral compass of the sprinkling of Democratic leaders is being identified as the proof that those leaders hate America and want to destroy it. Maybe that will change. Color me skeptical.

    (On point 3) The promotion of ethics and holding people to their oaths is limited to the degree to which the voters will decide to remove violators of either standard from office at the risk of a reduction in the benefit derived from keeping those violators in. In a society where so many people vote against their interests as do in our country, it strikes me as unreasonable to believe that enforcement of the promotion of ethics and holding people to their oaths is possible.

    As always, YMMV, and being cynical is difficult precisely because it’s so hard to keep up with the need.

  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan:”If Morality and Virtue have any meaning beyond “Team A vs. Team B” then someone like Doug Jones who will probably vote for conviction knowing full well that it will end his career as a Senator is demonstrably more moral and virtuous than a lying snake like Susanne Collins who will pretend to rend her garments and tear her hair in the throes of a weighty moral dilemma… before inevitably folding and voting exactly like the billionaires who pay for the wing nut welfare gravy train tell her to.”

    Jones said he is still waiting to “see if the dots get connected” on Trump withholding military aid in Ukraine in exchange for investigations into his political rivals.
    “If that is the case, then I think it’s a serious matter and it’s an impeachable matter. But if those dots aren’t connected and there are other explanations that I think are consistent with innocence, I will go that way, too,” he said.

    I’m not sure that I would count Sen. Jones in the “convict” column quite yet. Just sayin’… (I suppose that it’s possible that he’s imposed a news blackout on himself, so that he really DOES still need to see how the dots connect.)

  41. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: In fairness, I hold senseless and illogical personal animus toward Bill Clinton (and toward Hillary as far as that goes), but even so I didn’t see any cause to convict him. Again, just sayin’…

  42. gVOR08 says:

    I have no problem with moral condemnation of Republicans, I’ve several times commented in these threads that Republicans are the villains in the story of how we got here. What we have is a Republican Party controlled by wannabe oligarchs who have found that selling faux populism to the rubes is their only path to retaining power.

    But looking at things pragmatically, Dr. Taylor is right, wishing for better Republicans is futile. So what can we do? Things didn’t used to be this bad, but now they are. In troubleshooting any problem there is one question you always ask first, “What’d you fwck with?” What’s changed? @Steven L. Taylor: lists a few things.

    1) The breakdown of the post-Reconstruction party alignments (the 1994 “Republican Revolution” being the most significant event therein).
    2) The end of the Cold War as a party unifier.
    3) Demographic shifts.
    And other factors.

    As other factors I would suggest:
    – Fragmentation of media
    – Rupert godamn Murdoch
    – A black president
    – The Great Recession
    But most importantly, per Piketty,
    – Concentration of wealth and the use of wealth for political ends (to ensure further concentration of wealth)

  43. Andy says:

    Steven,

    I understand what you’re saying and don’t think you deserve the pushback you’re getting.

    Discussing systems, incentives and their effects is not the same thing and does not implicate a discussion concerning team affiliation and values. Just because a system incentivizes certain types of behaviors does not mean we treat all behaviors equally.

    Likewise, contrary to the implication of some, politics is highly influenced by incentives. Assuming one team is virtuous and impervious to such incentives as well as the tribal psychology that affects our species is foolish.

  44. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You mean like when Clinton was impeached and not a single Democrat voted to convict?

    Are you saying that not a single Democrat would have voted to convict Clinton if Clinton had done what Trump has done, or what Nixon did? If so, this is the crux of the disagreement. If not, what ARE you saying?

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  45. DrDaveT says:

    @Kit:

    That put me immediately in mind of this factoid: 99% of Fox viewers oppose impeachment.

    Careful; what the linked article actually states is that 99% of Republican Fox viewers oppose impeachment. I leave open the possibility that there might be non-Republican Fox viewers, and I would be fascinated to learn how they feel about impeachment (if they exist).

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  46. An Interested Party says:

    Assuming one team is virtuous and impervious to such incentives as well as the tribal psychology that affects our species is foolish.

    Indeed…but can anyone point to any modern Democratic (or even Republican, outside of, perhaps, Nixon) president who has done what Trump has? Yes, yes, teams, incentives, etc., etc. but this president is a clear and present danger unlike just about anyone who has come before…and anyone who supports him is doing great harm to our country, and it certainly isn’t partisan to point this out…

  47. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We could have, for example, an extreme right pole and still have multiple kinds of lefts and a center.

    The Democrats are embroiled in a Biden vs. Warren/Sanders question about the entire direction of the party. (With Sanders being way to the left of Warren, actually)

    I think we do have multiple kinds of left. Not sure about center, though.

    The left will consolidate or congeal around one candidate, whoever that may be, with Manchin or someone saying that he can’t endorse a radical leftist like Biden or whatever… But there isn’t a single left.

    Oh, David Brooks is the center. He’s wanted to be called the center all his life, I’ll give it to him. He is alone.

  48. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Likewise, contrary to the implication of some, politics is highly influenced by incentives. Assuming one team is virtuous and impervious to such incentives as well as the tribal psychology that affects our species is foolish.

    Democrats want to eat their own. They aren’t impervious to corrupt intentions, but they flail about self-destructively in a limiting manner whenever someone has to compromise with reality.

    Did you know that Elizabeth Warren took money for her work? Over decades it amounted to millions of dollars! Millions! Also, 9/11 was an inside job, and vaccines cause autism.

    (I really want an autism vaccine — not only it would make the world a better place, but it would make the antivaxxers heads explode)

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  49. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    The fact Marianne Williamson had enough people to meet the threshold to make any debate stage should remind everyone that Dems aren’t a bastion of rationality all the way down.

    Your David Brooks comment is probably the best thing i will read all day.

    Not sure that Sanders is all that left of Warren. In rhetoric, sure. In practice? Not so sure.

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  50. Kit says:

    @gVOR08:

    But most importantly, per Piketty,
    – Concentration of wealth and the use of wealth for political ends (to ensure further concentration of wealth)

    To your list, I’d add:
    * changes to various laws that have allowed money into politics;
    * (probably) the revocation of the FCC fairness doctrine;
    * regulatory capture and the revolving door between government and business.

    In troubleshooting any problem there is one question you always ask first, “What’d you fwck with?” What’s changed?

    At the risk of misrepresenting Steven’s views, I’d say that he has shown that the government works as designed, even if it doesn’t work as expected. The inputs to the system have changed, and the outputs, while surprising, follow from the original structure.

    Off the top of my head, people here are unsatisfied with this analysis for various reasons:
    * it seems to condone destructive behavior;
    * it fails to dig more deeply into the nature of the changes outside the system;
    * it fails to offer prescriptive advice;
    * it sometimes skirts with both-sider’ism;

    Assuming this is correct, I can see why Steven might feel that such comments are besides the points that he is trying to draw attention to.

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  51. Kurtz says:

    @Kit:

    it sometimes skirts with both-sider’ism;

    See my interaction with Steven above. This was not his argument. This is why it is important to understand the distinction between analysis at the systems level vs. individual behavior.

    To be more specific. There have only been three (plus Nixon) impeachments before this. Of those three, there is only one relevant example of a Democrat being impeached. Hypotheticals are irrelevant, because it taints the analysis with a contrived situation.

    Steven is not saying that what Clinton did was just as bad as what Trump has done. But Clinton did perjure himself, which is illegal. The impeachment back then was silly, but it wasn’t made up. But because perjury is a crime that citizens go to jail for committing. It should be a little surprising that there wasn’t some Democrats to break ranks in a vote that had no chance of making it to the removal threshold.

  52. Kit says:

    @Kurtz:
    I guess I wasn’t clear. I was trying to summarize why people have disagreed. That said, yeah, I do think Steven has brushed against this several times.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If you don’t think most Dems would rationalize an unethical president if that president was perceived by most Dem voters are delivering on Dem policy priorities, then yes, we disagree

    Sounds to me like both sides would look the other way when it comes to their own Trumps. While I’ve no doubt that a Democratic version would get the benefit of every doubt, I just don’t see most people rationalizing to such an extent. No imaginable Democratic candidate would ever get this 2020 electorate to profess unconditional love, come what may, just so long as the goods are delivered.

    ETA: I know that this is not Steven’s point! As he himself said above, he needs, here and there, to find better ways to make some points. I’ve learned a lot from him. When I disagree, it tends to be around the edges. And when I’m not completely satisfied, it’s often because I’d like him to expand his analysis.

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  53. Kurtz says:

    @Kit:

    Fair enough. I would strike the “most” from his sentence. As stated above, everyone here thinks that the current constitution of the GOP is an extremist organization full of radicalized pols.

    I think both Steven and I suspect that it is possible for the Dems to get to a similar place in a similar situation. Imagine if the Dems were mostly in the same lane as the Squad.* Do you really think that they wouldn’t look the other way if a POTUS was fulfilling long stymied policy goals but simultaneously breaking political norms? I can’t say for sure (no one can) but it shouldn’t be surprising that they might. History is filled with examples of this.

    *to be fair, those four are much closer to my views than most Democrats.

  54. MarkedMan says:

    @Kurtz: We can imagine anything you would like but that doesn’t make it so. Steven has clearly expressed that he believes the number of Democrats who would put laws and justice and the good of the country above their own immediate benefit is the same as the number of Republican Reps who just made that decision: Zero. This doesn’t just represent a disagreement around the edges, this represents the nihilism that justified voting for the Southern Strategy Party in the first place.* It’s the attitude of those who said “The Dems made me vote for Trump because they nominated Hillary.”*

    *I know Steven didn’t vote for Trump but in this he’s carrying water for those who did.

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  55. Kurtz says:

    @MarkedMan:

    My intent was not clear. I used the Squad because if they took over the party over a few decades, it would be the Left version of the current GOP. My point isn’t to throw shade at Dems as they are now, but to point out the GOP is a radicalized organization. We are in sync there.

    BUT I’m incredulous that the same structural forces that make it possible on the Right wouldn’t make it possible on the Left.

    I’m surprised that you are fighting so much on this, because no matter how morally upright movements start out, praxis tends to erode ethics and morals. This is pretty much indisputable from an historical perspective.

    But i certainly respect your viewpoint, maybe I’m just too cynical.

  56. Kit says:

    @Kurtz:

    I think both Steven and I suspect that it is possible for the Dems to get to a similar place in a similar situation.

    I’m in complete agreement, which is why I made sure to be careful with my wording: No imaginable Democratic candidate would ever get this 2020 electorate to profess unconditional love…

    What happened to the GOP could eventually happen to the Dem’s. Given the general state of politics, I’d countenance actions today that I would never have dreamed of a couple of decades ago. And I say that fearing that this is how democracies die.

  57. Michael Reynolds says:

    I agree that the right has shifted more extremely. But you can’t have polarization without two poles. We could have, for example, an extreme right pole and still have multiple kinds of lefts and a center.

    Simply not true. A), as pointed out above, we do have multiple iterations of the Left. Our eldest is visiting and trust me, we’re all on the Left but not on the same Left.

    B) you don’t need two sides to start a war, just one. Action and reaction. If a guy punches you in the face and you punch him back, 100% the blame is on the guy who threw the first punch. No Pearl Harbor = no Hiroshima.

    The Right is and always has been oppressive. Their entire ‘philosophy’ is a series of transparent rationalizations for keeping women, people of color and LGBT folks down and white men up. There’s no both sides there. There’s one side starting a war and not liking it much when there’s resistance. Is it possible that you’re understandably reluctant to face the fact that the political philosophy you once supported is simply evil?

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  58. @MarkedMan:

    Look, I know you are trying to win an argument, but could you at least acknowledge that I noted that they were not the same, Steven L. Taylor:

    Again, Clinton proves my point, albeit with a different degree of unethical.

    And the Clinton impeachment fits what I am saying, regardless of the asymmetry in behavior, because the Dems fully backed him. The vote was party-line. That is my point.

  59. @MarkedMan: I started grad school in 1990.

    I probably should update that photo, which is a few years old. You can find a relatively recent photo on my Twitter profile–the gray is more evident there 😉

  60. @MarkedMan:

    I’ll think about what you said but it doesn’t immediately change my viewpoint.

    That is all I ever seek or could reasonably ask for.

    On a tangential topic, several times you mentioned in passing that the solution to this partisanship is systemic. What changes do you believe helpful, and are there any successful examples ?

    That is long conversation. If I were waving a magic wand I would change the electoral system to one that was far more proportional and therefore encouraged a more mutli-party system. That wouldn’t solve partisanship, but it would alter polarization. This is unlikely to happen.

  61. @Kit:

    Does your understanding serve any ends beyond itself?

    If you (broadly speaking) don’t understand how things work and why they are breaking down, you can’t fix a damn thing.

    You note organ failure and broken bones. If the doctor doesn’t know what organs do what it doesn’t matter if he knows something is wrong. He can complain about how awful it is that you are in pain, but if he doesn’t know why and how, what’s the point of the doctor?

    This probably deserves a full post. Let me think about it.

  62. @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    In fairness, I hold senseless and illogical personal animus toward Bill Clinton (and toward Hillary as far as that goes), but even so I didn’t see any cause to convict him. Again, just sayin’…

    Sure, but I am not asking about individual people’s responses. I am talking here about mass political behavior and partisan outcomes.

  63. @Andy: Yes and thanks.

  64. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I have to admit, when I look at Israel and Italy, among others, more parties does not strike me as beneficial. Such systems seem to encourage small extremist single issue parties that trade their few votes for blind acceptance of their single issue. It strikes me as better if there are fewer parties who must therefore appeal to as broad a swath of the electorate as possible.

    I would agree that the electoral system here is untenable, and the fact that a Wyoming resident has nearly 100 times the voting power in the Senate as a Californian is a recipe for disaster.

  65. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And the Clinton impeachment fits what I am saying, regardless of the asymmetry in behavior, because the Dems fully backed him. The vote was party-line. That is my point.

    But you also seem to be saying that the fact that Clinton’s misbehaviors posed no threat to the nation, our institutions, or our alliances is totally irrelevant here — that the party-line vote must be explained wholly by party, and not at all by what the actual crimes were. That it would have been a straight party-line vote no matter what Clinton had done.

    If that’s what you are asserting, I disagree completely. If it’s not what you are asserting, then you are not making your point clearly.

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  66. @Kurtz:

    Steven is not saying that what Clinton did was just as bad as what Trump has done. But Clinton did perjure himself, which is illegal. The impeachment back then was silly, but it wasn’t made up. But because perjury is a crime that citizens go to jail for committing. It should be a little surprising that there wasn’t some Democrats to break ranks in a vote that had no chance of making it to the removal threshold.

    Yes, exactly.

  67. @MarkedMan:

    I have to admit, when I look at Israel and Italy, among others, more parties does not strike me as beneficial.

    And you are picking two problematic examples out of dozens of possible cases. I would never suggest Israel’s electoral system for the US in any event.

  68. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m not ignoring what you are saying. It simply comes across as if you are saying two different things in the same post:

    Again, Clinton proves my point, albeit with a different degree of unethical

    The difference in degree renders your concession moot. You are saying a) these two things demonstrate an equivalence and b) these two things are not equivalent.

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  69. gVOR08 says:

    I am reminded of an evening playing tennis some years ago. It had just come out that Gov. Blagojevich had tried to sell the appointment to Obama’s vacated senate seat. The Republicans I played with were all bitching about how Dems would close ranks and defend him, specifically mentioning MSNBC. I got home in time to catch Keith Olbermann tearing Blago a new one and demanding he resign immediately if not sooner. And I don’t think Ds’ reaction to Ken Starr charging Clinton over an essentially personal matter after a years long fishing expedition (there really was, and is, a vast right wing conspiracy) is comparable to Rs’ response to Ds reluctantly going after trump when publicly handed a smoking gun of official malfeasance.

    I don’t think D politicians start out more moral than R politicians, but the arguments Rs need to make cannot be made honestly and the constant lying has to wear down the soul. As does depending on the ignorance of your voters and feeding that ignorance. As does the transactional relationship with donors. Rs take money from Charles Koch and support his goals, that has to be more corrosive than taking money from the Sierra Club and supporting their goals. Someone above offered that D voters are better. I don’t think on average we’re smarter or better informed, and many of us are motivated by self interest. But at least we aren’t as racist as Rs, nor as tied to partisan media. We also don’t have the cult of personality Rs have, and with it the need to ride the coattail of the head of the cult. If Clinton were removed, we got Al Gore. If Trump is removed they get Pence.

    All that said, motivations are complex and pressure comes from many sources. Were labels switched in the current impeachment, I don’t know if 90% of Ds would support their prez or 40%. I doubt 100%. But the institutional pressures would still be there to support the Party. I might disagree with Dr. Taylor on estimated degree of conformance, but I certainly agree with the importance of institutional design. And it’s a lot easier to change institutional influences than to change people.

  70. @DrDaveT: I am not trying to re-litigate the Clinton impeachment. But if you can’t see how a party-line vote isn’t an example of partisan behavior, I am not sure what else I can say.

    No, I can’t conjure an exact counter-example in which a Dem acted as badly as Trump so as to prove or disprove the point.

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  71. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m not picking a fight here. I’m truly curious, especially given your field of study: what are examples of good, functioning multi-party democracies? Sweden? The Netherlands?

  72. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: Thank you. I had generated a long post in response to Steven and then lost it due to fat-fingers. Your post presented what I was trying to say in a different yet better way.

  73. @gVOR08:

    But the institutional pressures would still be there to support the Party. I might disagree with Dr. Taylor on estimated degree of conformance, but I certainly agree with the importance of institutional design. And it’s a lot easier to change institutional influences than to change people.

    Bingo–especially the last line.

  74. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I also agree with that statement, 100%.

  75. @MarkedMan:

    I’m not picking a fight here. I’m truly curious, especially given your field of study: what are examples of good, functioning multi-party democracies? Sweden? The Netherlands?

    I didn’t think you were picking a fight.

    Look, most democracies are multi-party systems. We have one of the most rigid two-party systems in the world, and I really do think it exacerbates our problems because it forces everyone to make a choice between two options for all practical purposes. And that leads to the digging in for one’s side that I am talking about here.

    You want an interesting case: take New Zealand that had an electoral system like ours (although in a parliamentary, unicameral system) and changed to a more proportional one in the 90s. I would take their system (same one used in Germany).

  76. Zachriel says:

    @Kurtz: But Clinton did perjure himself, which is illegal.

    For a lie to be perjury, it has to be material, that is, a “fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action”. The judge in the case decided not to include any testimony about the Lewinsky matter in her decision, and she dismissed the case because, even if Jones’ story had been entirely correct, she failed to show damages. That makes Clinton’s mistruths immaterial to the case.

    However, Clinton was found in civil contempt.

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  77. Kurtz says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The difference in degree renders your concession moot. You are saying a) these two things demonstrate an equivalence and b) these two things are not equivalent.

    This the sticking point. It doesn’t require them to be the same degree of unethical to be an appropriate comparison, because Clinton committed a crime and it was proven. Further, the vote in the Senate was nowhere near the threshold to remove, so there was plenty of room politcally to vote on concience and with the rule of law.

  78. Kit says:

    @gVOR08:
    Fantastic post, but unlike the others, I don’t get the last line:

    And it’s a lot easier to change institutional influences than to change people.

    I take it as axiomatic that no institutional changes are possible in today’s America. Change can, in my opinion, only come from outside.

  79. Kurtz says:

    @Zachriel:

    This is a fair point. However, he did accept immunity after the fact for a reason. As part of that deal, he surrendered his law license. Yes, it was immaterial to the Jones case, but lying under oath is a serious offense.

    I’m not sure that it is material to this particular discussion though. I don’t think it was some miscarriage of justice that he was impeached. Nor would it have been unreasonable for some Dems to vote for removal because it was certainly a breach of ethics.

    Note please that i do not think he should have been impeached, but it was reasonable to do so. As noted above, it was all very silly. If anything, the GOP should have been willing to settle for censure and likely would have obtained some Democratic support for that.

  80. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But if you can’t see how a party-line vote isn’t an example of partisan behavior, I am not sure what else I can say.

    If a new president were sworn in, and immediately impeached the next day by the opposing party, this would also be an example of partisan behavior on both sides? If one side acts irrationally or excessively, then we can always expect, ahem, partisan behavior. Would you advise today’s Democrats to start voting more often with their Republican counterparts? Is that the way forward? Sorry, but I find the Clinton example ridiculous.

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  81. Kit says:

    @Kurtz:

    Note please that i do not think he should have been impeached, but it was reasonable to do so. As noted above, it was all very silly.

    I think it was a legalistic trap. I also think impeaching a president for something “very silly” makes a mockery of government, law, and responsibility.

    Let me add that apart from that line, I’ve found your posts interesting and well argued. We pretty much see eye-to-eye. But that one comment…

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  82. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    if he doesn’t know why and how, what’s the point of the doctor?

    This probably deserves a full post. Let me think about it.

    Very much looking forward to it, Doctor Taylor!

  83. Kurtz says:

    @Kit:

    Why thank you. I rather enjoy your comments. This is by far the best place to read the responses. They often make me laugh.

    One thing is for sure, it’s tough on the Left because we have to deal with the bullshit GOP.

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  84. Kurtz says:

    @Kit:

    I take it as axiomatic that no institutional changes are possible in today’s America. Change can, in my opinion, only come from outside.

    This is the David Simon argument. IIRC he says this is the most important theme of The Wire

  85. MarkedMan says:

    @Kurtz: Wait, the crime doesn’t matter? Dems should have voted for impeachment regardless of the crime? How about if we argue reductio ad absurdum? On one hand let’s take a president who is actively colluding with a foreign enemy to interfere with an American election and also blackmails people under attack by that foreign enemy. And on the other hand a President who lied about a blowjob.

    Oh wait. Reality is the reduction ad absurdum. The comparison is literally nonsense.

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  86. Kurtz says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Seriously dude, you need to calm down. You keep making straw arguments. It’s almost as if you are not reading my posts for what they say.

    I said very clearly, multiple times in this thread, that the behavior of Trump warrants removal whereas Clinton’s did not. Do you not read?

    The only person that is using fallacies is you–neither, I, nor Steven has even once said that the behavior of those two people as President were remotely comparable in degree.

    But the situation, politically, is comparable:

    House controlled by the opposite party of the President and the Senate. No chance of actual removal of POTUS.

    The only way that you can defend your position is if you argue that Bill did nothing wrong. But, he did. He lied under oath. Regardless of criminal liability, (which he could have faced after leaving office,) it was a breach of ethics.

    None of it should ever have happened, but it would have been reasonable for a Democrat to vote their conscience in a situation in which their vote doesn’t matter in regard to removal. Would you have been mad if Dems crossed party lines on a censure vote?

    This really ain’t that hard. Besides we’re quite literally in agreement about everything substantive except for your refusal to understand the distinctions being made by the two of us.

  87. MarkedMan says:

    @Kurtz:

    Would you have been mad if Dems crossed party lines on a censure vote?

    Nope. If it were me I would have voted for censure.

  88. MarkedMan says:

    After a day spent talking past each other, which, truth be told may be all on me, I just want to close off my participation in this thread by wishing everyone a joyous holiday season and all the best for the new year.

  89. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But if you can’t see how a party-line vote isn’t an example of partisan behavior, I am not sure what else I can say.

    Conversely, if you can’t see that a pure party-line vote only proves that at least one party is exhibiting strictly partisan motivation, I’m not sure what else I can say. If Party A all vote that the sky is blue, while Party B all vote that the sky is yellow, that doesn’t say anything at all about the partisan behavior of Party A.

    I will try one last time to get you to answer the counterfactual question: in your opinion, if Bill Clinton had done exactly what Donald Trump has done, would every single Democratic senator have voted to leave him in office? This is the crucial question.

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  90. Kit says:

    @Kurtz:

    This is the David Simon argument. IIRC he says this is the most important theme of The Wire

    I never watched The Wire, or anything else for that matter, for a decades now. Looks like I missed out. But you did send me digging for more on David Simon, and I stumbled upon this great interview:

    The Wire depicts a world in which capital has triumphed completely, labour has been marginalised and moneyed interests have purchased enough political infrastructure to prevent reform. It is a world in which the rules and values of the free market and maximised profit have been mistaken for a social framework, a world where institutions themselves are paramount and everyday human beings matter less.

    “Unemployed and under-employed, idle at a west Baltimore soup kitchen or dead-ended at some strip-mall cash register – these are the excess Americans. The economy staggers along without them, and without anyone in this society truly or sincerely regarding their desperation. Ex-steelworkers and ex-longshoremen, street dealers and street addicts, and an army of young men hired to chase and jail the dealers and addicts, whores and johns and men to run the whores and coerce the johns – and all of them unnecessary and apart from the new millennium economic model that long ago declared them irrelevant.

    “This is the world of The Wire, the America left behind.”

    Interesting guy, and I’ll keep me eyes out for him going forward. Thanks!

  91. Kurtz says:

    @Kit:

    It would be well worth your time to watch it. At first it seems like a really well done police procedural and then it suddenly becomes something more detailed.

  92. @MarkedMan: To you as well!