Photo of the day

From the Telegraph Animal photos of the week:

vividly coloured damselflies in the dew
Photographer Alberto Ghizzi Panizza, 38, spotted these vividly coloured damselflies in the dew as he walked across a flood plain early one morning.Struck by their cute poses, he took the shots shortly after dawn as they rested on wild flowers. Mr Panizza, from Palma, Italy, took the photos near the River Po in the Po Valley.

Polarized America (and yes, more asymmetry)

Nice piece in the Atlantic on just how polarized Americans have become:

But reading the paper, “A Broken Public? Americans’ Responses to the Great Recession,” the shutdown appears to be the inevitable result of a dynamic unprecedented in recent decades in which public support for government programs decreased sharply in a time of economic distress. It did so wildly unevenly, with almost all of the decline coming on the Republican side, where support for government programs plummeted to record lows.

The decline in public support for government solutions to social problems between 2008 and 2010 was the was among the largest two-year changes in the last quarter of a century, the authors found…

They systematically tested hypotheses until they were left with one conclusion: The Great Recession caused everyone to double down on what they already believed about the proper role of the individual and the state, with Republican sentiments intensifying more sharply against new government programs than Democratic ones changed in favor. “For several decades now, the Democratic and Republican parties have become more and more distinct when it comes to the laws and policies that U.S. senators, representatives, and presidents support,” said Brooks in a statement. “This polarization is also asymmetric: Republican politicians have moved much faster to the right than Democratic politicians have moved to the left. ”  [emphasis mine- -and heck, I’d use a larger font, too, if I knew how to do it easily]

The Great Recession did not shift American public opinion as a whole, it split America into to ever-more-rapidly diverging ideological camps. Or, as the study authors put it: “[P]opulation layers defined by their partisan biases responded heterogeneously when exposed to the same conditions, adopting divergent attitude patterns …. Attitudes of the U.S. public as a whole moved toward lower levels of government support, but not because all citizens experienced the same trends and reasoned in the same way.”

I’m not going to argue whether Republicans are right or wrong here, but it is important to note that it is a massive shift among Republicans that is driving this polarization.  It is definitely not a “both sides…” issue.

This really is a constitutional crisis

I was listening to the New Yorker politics podcast yesterday morning and the reporters were discussing the fact that their reporter friends around the world were truly incredulous at our government shutdown.  Usually, when a government shuts down, it is from external factors, not a failure of a country’s own Constitutional political institutions.  But ours have now failed us.  The idea that an extreme minority faction of a minority party which has control of one half of the legislative branch of government (solely through gerrymandering– House Democrats received more than a million more total votes) should be able to shut down an entire government because they are not getting their preferred policy outcome is simply preposterous.  We have a way of settling these sorts of things.  They are called elections And the Republican presidential candidate lost the last one.

A student recently asked me what Republicans who really  don’t want the ACA should do.  What political parties have always done– work their damndest to see that their guy wins the next election (and to win the public over to their position– they only think they’ve done that, they haven’t actually).  Our Constitution has always allowed for the potential for such mischief, but until now there has always been enough norms of decent behavior that no political party has ever tried such a brazen stunt– i.e., give us the agenda of our losing presidential candidate or the economy gets it.  The fact that this can now and has happened is indeed a Constitutional crisis because it shows that, absent two political parties that are willing to abide by certain norms of compromise, cooperation, and respect for the legitimacy of the other side winning elections, the machinery of government can be brought to a standstill by a determined rump faction.  And right now, one of the political parties is trampling over all these long-standing norms.  Unlike a Parliamentary system where the majority party simply gets their way and that’s that, our democracy genuinely depends upon both sides acting with at least a modicum of statemanship.  And now we’re seeing what happens when one side loses all respect for governing norms and it’s not good.

On a very related note, I really enjoyed this Seth Masket post on the matter:

Note what else has happened just in the past few years:

  • State legislative recalls are on the rise. There have been 38 state legislative recall attempts in U.S. history. 17 of those — nearly half — have been since 2010.
  • The filibuster is on the rise. Once a rare tool, it is now invoked on virtually every piece of legislation in the U.S. Senate. The filibuster has become more common since the mid-90s, but its use since 2009 has skyrocketed.
  • Republicans threatened a shutdown and a debt default just two years ago.

These are the tools of a frustrated minority party in an era of polarized parties. When a majority party is advancing an agenda that the minority party finds unacceptable (as is almost inevitable when the parties are so ideologically distinct from each other), the normal methods of disagreement will begin to seem insufficient.

What are the normal methods? Basically, you vote against bills you don’t like and propose alternate bills that you do like. If you’re a large minority party, maybe you can cajole a few fence-sitters in the majority and win on a few votes. You can try to move public opinion to your side. You can do some log-rolling and horse-trading to win once in a while. If you get tired of losing on most votes, you organize better campaigns and recruit better candidates to try to win a majority in the next election.

These tactics were pretty much okay for House Republicans for the four decades they held minority status from the mid-50s to the mid-90s. They didn’t win on party-line votes, but that wasn’t the worst thing in the world, since a) there were far fewer party-line votes back then, and b) the policy consequences of losing were far less dire, since the ideological distance between the parties was much smaller.

It’s a different story today. If you (or your supporters) fervently believe that the passage of the other party’s agenda is not only bad but outright un-American, a betrayal of our most sacred principles, the love-child of Satan and Eva Braun… then how can you accept a loss? How do you not use every tool at your disposal, even ones that your more senior colleagues find distasteful or even dangerous? It’s not enough to say, “Hey, we tried to stop ObamaCare, but the other side just had more votes.” If the Affordable Care Act really is the Death of America, and orthodox methods to stop it have failed, then why would you not use unorthodox methods, even ones that might cause harm to America? Harm is better than death, right? …

At any rate, as long as tools like this are lying around and can be used to either delay or roll back the majority’s policy accomplishments, they’ll eventually be employed when the minority party grows desperate enough. The solution, then, is either to make the political system less partisan — something that countless reformers have tried and failed to do — or take away the dangerous toys. We don’t have to have the filibuster, the recall, or a separate vote to raise the debt ceiling to pay for things Congress has already voted to pay for. None of these things were written into the US Constitution, no less the Bible. If we don’t like the way they’re being used, we can choose to abolish them.

Indeed.  Time to abolish them.  It’s become increasingly clear that minority parties (especially the Republicans, occassionaly the Democrats) are willing to wreak havoc with democracy when given the opportunity.  We need to take those opportunities away.

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