A good example of the problem can been seen in the New Hampshire Senate race where Scott Brown lobbied to make our government worse so he will look better by comparison. From Huffington Post:
New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown called Senate Republican leadership to urge them to stop a bipartisan energy efficiency bill, so as not to give Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), the bill’s Democratic sponsor and his Democratic opponent, something to run on.
The Huffington Post first reported on Tuesday that Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts, lobbied against the bill as recently as last week. The Shaheen-Portman bill failed to clear a procedural hurdle Monday despite enjoying broad bipartisan support. Although the legislation had 14 co-sponsors — seven from each side of the aisle — just two other Republicans ultimately voted with Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) to end debate on the measure: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Susan Collins (Maine).
Sabotaging what even Republicans think is good policy for political gain is not new or unique. This is effectively the playbook Sen. Minority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) adopted as soon as President Obama took office. He openly admitted that he united Republicans to try to stop Obama from doing anything, which made Democrats look ineffective. Given how incredibly well it worked as a political strategy in 2010 it is here to stay.
This tactic depends on the zero-sum politics of a two party system. The ability to politically benefit from setting everything on fire as long as your own house ends up just slightly less damaged.
This kind of disgusting but highly effective tactic only works because we have an electoral system designed to make only two parties viable and our government is structured to often allow the perceived “minority” party to have veto power. Addressing either would fix things.
If we are going to use a government system that depends on compromise we need a political incentive for compromise, because right now the political incentive is for the minority not to compromise. If our election system were designed to include more than two parties it would go a long way to ending this dynamic. Then if Democrats and Republican didn’t work together they both could both losing at the same time.
Similarly, if we removed the veto powers of the minority the problem would go away. In other democracies, like certain parliamentary systems, it doesn’t matter if the minority opposes everything because they have little power to sabotage the plans of the majority.
Having a system where a party has both the power to make the government dysfunctional and can be politically rewarded for doing so is incredibly damaging and stupid. Merely hoping we can return to a less polarized time is not a plan.
Photo from ScottBrown.com