Monday, August 30, 2010

Party over Personality

Ezra Klein makes the case for party-line voting:

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. 

I always feel irrationally guilty as I go down the list marking the D candidates and only the D candidates. But at the end of the day, that D represents a list of policy priorities that I sympathize with far more than the priorities of the R. So there's no real reason I should care overly much about the name in front of the letter.


  1. This strikes me as a bit overly simplistic, which is to say that it maybe makes sense as a default rule. Of course, instead of voting always D or R, I tend to vote for divided government, but I've held my nose and voted for (or against) the party in power, like in 2004 for Kerry.

    Still, while who the candidate caucuses with is, as Klein notes, the most important decision, surely it does not override all other considerations. I'll admit, there are precious few adults in the Senate, but I'll offer two examples -- Lindsay Graham (R) and Russ Feingold (D). Graham, in particular, impressed me with his explanation of why he voted to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.

    That's not part of the "family, job, background, etc." storyline that Klein dismisses; it's an actual demonstration of independent and intelligent thought. It's not "disguising" oneself as an individual -- it IS individualism.

  2. I usually do like Senator Graham, and have praised him (or at least agreed with him) on this blog before. That said, I wanted to see the passage of the PPACA and the ARRA. He didn't vote for either one. I also want to see cap and trade passed, and he's willing to walk away from it due to political beef with Harry Reid. (Like I said, the beef is legitimate, but it's still putting anger at process override policy priorities.) And how he wants to repeal the birthright citizenship. So even a Republican that I have some amount of respect for is occupying a seat I would much rather have filled by a Democrat who shares my policy priorities.

    Being a libertarian, you're not as wedded to either party's ideology. Indeed, you're not even wedded to what Jay Rosen calls the "ideology of the center." It makes for a different way to think when voting than someone like me, whose priorities (very) broadly line up with the blue team.

  3. Well, let me ask it this way, and I'll admit upfront that this is a very stacked way of phrasing the question, but given the absolute nature of Klein's statement, I don't think it's unfair:

    You're voting for your state's Senator. Your choice is someone like Lindsay Graham (R) or someone like Rod Blagojevich (D) (and by that I mean all of Blago's flaws).

    Do you really vote for the Blago-clone just because he has a (D) after his name?

  4. Blago is the exception that proves the rule. But situations like that don't arise often, since state and national parties have a lot of incentives to keep that sort of thing from happening.

  5. Fair enough, as I indicated, Blago is an extreme example. But he's hardly alone in terms of being what I would think would be a difficult choice for anyone who's not a fundamentalist partisan:

    Charlie Rangel? -- looks like pretty serious tax evasion and other violations of federal law

    Kwami Kilpatrick (former mayor of Detroit) -- the sexual affair that brought him down resulted in a civil rights lawsuit wherein it emerged that he fired police officers who had reported about the affair; abuse of power?

    Maxine Waters -- more apparent ethical violations and abuse of position

    Chris Dodd -- retiring and just as well; how in the world could he have believed that he got no special treatment from Countrywide about his mortgage when he heading the Finance Committee?

    I could also go into the lying that reveals questionable character episodes, like Richard Blumenthal, but that's less serious than these improprieties. (However, I do think as a general rule that if you're willing to lie about something like military service to get elected, it makes me wonder what else you're willing to lie about in order to get your legislation enacted.)

    Again, I understand that for people who belong to and believe in one of the two major parties, that as a general rule, you're going to find your candidate, warts and all, preferable to the other party's candidate. (After all, it's not like I couldn't have picked out lots of Republicans with similar problems to Blago/Rangel/etc.) And to be clear, I'm not accusing you, Bullied Pulpit, of acting that way. I'm just criticizing the absolutist position that Klein seems to be asserting.

  6. I doubt Klein really thinks things are that absolute. There's a difference between the way someone trained in political science and journalism writes and the way a law professor reads. Sometimes rhetoric takes precedence over precision.

    Rereading the piece, I don't see it as that absolute. He says it's the single most important thing. That doesn't mean other things don't matter, just that this is the primary consideration. In the first paragraph, he says that individual politics don't matter, then adds that they don't matter "as much as we think." Again, there's some wiggle room.

  7. Okay, that's a fair point.

    Here's what I wonder about: Klein's suggestion makes sense for committed Democrats (and Republicans). But more and more voters are opting out of the two major parties. For us, Klein's suggestion is largely (though not totally) off the mark. That's okay if he's writing only for partisan party members, but it's sort of odd to ignore the growing electorate, for whom party affiliation is generally irrelevant.

  8. See, I actually disagree with the premise that theres some sort of growing cadre of independent voters who don't identify with either party. I'm aware of the polling that shows party ID at a low level for both parties, but the research I've seen also shows that the vast majority of self-described "independent" voters vote overwhelmingly for one party or the other. (I would provide links, but I'm writing this on my phone on the bus to work.) There are some, like you, who really do vote for both parties or prefer divided government, but the research I've seen is that its a pretty small number of people, and they generally fit your demographic profile: highly educated and pretty well-off. There may be a lot of people like me who really detest much about both parties, but since I detest one more than the other, I vote like a partisan Democrat.

  9. "There are some, like you, who really do vote for both parties or prefer divided government, but the research I've seen is that its a pretty small number of people, and they generally fit your demographic profile: highly educated and pretty well-off."

    What? You mean, I'm not a typical voter? >.>

  10. Sorry I had to be the one to break it to ya.