Sentences to ponder

Campaigns are built to fool us into thinking that we're voting for individuals. We learn about the candidate's family, her job, her background — even her dog. But we're primarily voting for parties. The parties have just learned we're more likely to vote for them if they disguise themselves as individuals. And American politics would work better if we understood that.

That's from Ezra Klein.


Does Ezra think we are still ruled by political parties? Or by elected officials. Ezra Klein would do well to better understand his role in this universe.

Well, it's not just parties. It's factions within parties --- e.g., voting for Obama is not voting solely for the Democratic Party, but for the portion of the party loyal to Obama (since that's who gets the political favors he hands out, etc.).

Klein's statement is so obvious it barely seems worth mentioning. But yes, there do seem to be a lot of people who are surprised to learn that their vote for Obama was a vote for public-sector unions, trial lawyers, and Wall Street, to name his big three contributors. Barry was just the visible tip of the iceberg - a great TV presence.

And now we have those three groups driving all the public policy, with the added bonus of an Executive who has never run a single thing in his life.

With predictable results.

A few years ago weren't people talking about the receding power of parties?

Given the data point that American voters are becoming increasingly partisan, not less (link), it seems to me that for the most part they are perfectly aware of what they are doing.

Klein's article is shallow and uninstructive.

The Public Choice literature has already shown that in our winner-take-all, fisrt-past-the-post voting system, we have an equillibrium of two parties.

Candidates are often unknown people and gathering information on a candidate is costly. Which is why many voters remain rationally ignorant.

Parties reduce information costs by telling you, in large measure, what a candidate believes. The candidate (or his opponent or the media) will tell you, during the campaign, where he differs from the party (gun control, abortion, etc).

The reason we have terms like RINO or Blue Dog informs us that party loyalty is not a given. These votes must be gained through compromise (or logrolling). The fact parties have a position called "whip" means discipline is not assured.

Are you telling me that Maxine Waters, Joe Lieberman, and Evan Bayh are clones because they're in the same party and vote together most of the time? The different viewpoints have no impact on the bills which are brought to the floor, not released from committee, or the amendments to bills?

Does Klein's explanation tell us why Ted Kennedy and George Bush were joined on No Child Left Behind, but ultra liberals hated it and are trying to repeal it?

There are other structural reasons why politicians have such party loyalty: campaign funding, committee appointments, share of pork.

Primary campaigns are intended to appeal to the median voter in the respective parties. General elections appeal to the median voter in the general electorate (unless the election outcome is certain).

Those structural explanations are far more instructive than a slight and cynical statement about individualism being washed out. If anything, there are far too many "characters" in campaigns.

Obama is the exception. His campaign created a simulacrum of a man. The original has ceased to exist.

To add to what Six Ounces said, how can Klein expect to be taken seriously saying that in the middle of primary season--when even a slight exposure to the news shows how non-unitary parties are.

I don't have the faintest idea what Klein means here by "politics would work better."

it's obvious to me that disenchantment with the binary funneling that Klein extols is high and rising. I'd say this: Americans think politics would work better if we really got to vote for individuals.

The ugly implication by Klein is that we'd all be better off if we just accepted the way things really are. "Sit back and enjoy it, honey!" Nice. Real nice, Ezra.

I think this is an odd statement to make in the middle of primary season.

One most certainly is voting for the individual when voting for president. The president is the leader and therefore the face of the country. If he looks or acts weak the country looks weak. Breaking it up solely by parties is simplistic.

Six Ounces hits the right notes. I would add that our rules, especially geographical representation in a federalist context, encourage policy entrepreneurship and pork barrel priorities. Parties matter, but they are partisan first, and only programmatic (in a policy sense) second.

American Government is good theatre.

Wait a sec, didn't he tell us a while back that either the carbon trading or healthcare bills were bad because the nasty Republicans made the Democratic party cut deals with individual Democrats?

Comments for this post are closed