Wonkblog: Polarization

Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal

Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal

1. The change the Senate made today is small but consequential: The filibuster no longer applies to judicial or executive-branch nominees. It still applies to bills and Supreme Court nominations.

2. Well, technically it still applies to all bills and Supreme Court nominations. In practice, legislation that mainly uses the government's tax and spending powers can evade the filibuster using the budget reconciliation procedures. That's how George W. Bush's tax cuts passed, and how Obamacare was finished. As for the Supreme Court, it's very hard to believe that Democrats or Republicans would accept filibusters of qualified Supreme Court nominees, either. And, as Democrats proved today, they don't have to.

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Is America a bubble?

Is America a bubble?

The markets shuddered slightly as the debt ceiling neared. The yield on short-term Treasuries rose tenfold. Fidelity Investments sold off its short-term government debt.

But the shudder was slight -- and, on Friday, there was a relief rally in equities on the news that House Republicans might agree to suspend the debt ceiling for six weeks in order to spend more time with their shutdown.

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The problem with President Obama's shutdown strategy

The problem with President Obama's shutdown strategy

Being president of a divided country is basically an impossible job. To get anything done, you have to try to persuade the American people to support you. But the act of persuading the American people makes the opposition party more determined to oppose you.

This is the paradox of presidential leadership: When the president publicly leads, the minority party becomes less likely to follow.

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The 13 reasons Washington is failing

The 13 reasons Washington is failing

The government is shut down. Confidence in Congress is at all-time lows. The American people haven't believed the country to be on the right track in almost a decade. Congress might do something truly crazy and default on the national debt.

At this point, it's almost cliche to say Washington isn't working. But the truth is harsher: Washington is actively failing. It's failing to craft policies that make the country better. And it's failing to avoid disasters that make the country worse.

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Our governing crisis, in one sentence

Our governing crisis, in one sentence

Greg Sargent boils our "current governing crisis" down to two sentences. I'm going to try to do it in one sentence:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics — it is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

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Is Washington in a 'post-policy era'?

Is Washington in a 'post-policy era'?

Peter Suderman offers the provocative thought that Washington is in "a post-policy moment." The core fact, he says, is that both parties have achieved the goals they care about most: Republicans have kept taxes low, defense spending high, and the national-security state strong. Democrats, meanwhile, have successfully defended the entitlement state and passed a near-universal health-care bill -- and he might have added their recent successes raising taxes on the rich and advancing the cause of gay marriage.

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Is Obama's biggest problem Obama?

Is Obama's biggest problem   Obama?

For the White House, immigration reform perfectly encapsulates the most frustrating reality of President Obama's second term: If it's to be a success, Obama needs to stay out of it — or at least out of the parts that involve Congress.

That's the message he's gotten from Democratic and Republican legislators alike. In the New Yorker, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey recounted a White House meeting at which he told Obama how Republicans would respond to public appeals on immigration. "Right now, if you put out your bill, they will feel like they're being cornered," he said.

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Ross Douthat gets Washington right, then very wrong

Ross Douthat gets Washington right, then very wrong

How out-of-touch is Washington? This out-of-touch:

As President Obama began his second term, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to list their policy priorities for 2013. Huge majorities cited jobs and the economy; sizable majorities cited health care costs and entitlement reform; more modest majorities cited fighting poverty and reforming the tax code. Down at the bottom of the list, with less than 40 percent support in each case, were gun control, immigration and climate change.

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Congress is wildly unpopular. Should anyone actually care?

Congress is wildly unpopular. Should anyone actually care?

Sorry, guys (and yeah, Congress is mostly made up of guys):



Polling about the overwhelming unpopularity of Congress is sometimes batted away with a knowing remark about how the public has been losing faith in most all institutions over the past 30 or 40 years. And there's something to that. But it's also worth being clear that Congress is much, much more unpopular than any institution Gallup has seen fit to poll:

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The people have taken over American politics, and they hate it

The people have taken over American politics, and they hate it

Power has devolved to the people. And the people hate it.

In his book "Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics," Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina considers this "the great irony" of American politics: that the more Americans participate in their political system, the angrier and more disillusioned they become. We have met the enemy, and it is us. Or at least some of us.

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If you pay them money, partisans will tell you the truth

If you pay them money, partisans will tell you the truth

One of the most infamous and dispiriting findings in recent political science research is that partisans can't even agree on basic facts, at least when those facts bear on politics. Princeton's Larry Bartels found that, in 1988, Democrats were much less likely than Republicans to correctly answer questions about whether inflation went down under President Ronald Reagan (it did) and whether unemployment also fell (it did):

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Here's why the 'scandals' aren't affecting Obama's poll numbers

Here's why the 'scandals' aren't affecting Obama's poll numbers

If you've been reading the newspapers, you know that the Obama administration has had a very tough week.

It was "a bad week for the White House," according to the National Journal. USA Today said it was "one of the most challenging weeks at the White House for the Obama administration." The Washington Examiner went with "Obama's roughest week." Our colleagues at The Fix dissented a bit: They didn't think it was Obama's worst week ever. Just his second-worst week ever.

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Big money corrupts Washington. Small donors polarize it.

Big money corrupts Washington. Small donors polarize it.

Can small money overwhelm big money? Faced with a hostile Supreme Court and a gridlocked Congress offering little chance of passing legislation, today's campaign-finance reformers sure hope so.

The notion is alluring. Online fundraising has made it easy to collect large sums in small increments from thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. Soon, proponents hope, politicians won't have to go to lobbyists and corporate bundlers; the Internet will simply disrupt campaign finance as it has upended so much else.

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Politics is not here to please you

Politics is not here to please you

Back when I first began reporting about policy, I got a piece of advice I've tried never to forget. I haven't done a particularly great job of it, because I've forgotten who actually gave it to me. But I've remembered the actual line. "The world isn't here to please you," I was told.

If you're around policy research enough you'll end up reading a lot of studies that violate your intuitions, your theories, your hopes, and even your values. You'll have the instinct to brush them away or come up with some reason they're wrong. In those moments, I was told, it's worth remembering that the world isn't here to please you.

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Larry Summers on why we shouldn't worry about gridlock

Larry Summers on why we shouldn't worry about gridlock

It won't shock longtime readers that I'm in a rather continuous state of dismay over the workings of the modern Congress. Larry Summers, the famed economist and former director of the National Economics Council, is calmer. In a recent article, he argued that the problems of gridlock are substantially overstated. We spoke Monday evening, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Obama's second term is upending what we think we know about Washington

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama's team became famous for submitting almost everything they did to rigorous A/B testing. Staff members would send different versions of a message to small groups of randomly selected supporters, determine which produced the best response and then disseminate the winning appeal to the audience at large. The campaign made choices on the basis of hard data — even when the results violated the theories of experienced political operatives.

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'Mad Men' should make you feel better about politics today

'Mad Men' should make you feel better about politics today

The season premiere of "Mad Men" ended with Don Draper staring at the front page of the New York Times from Jan. 1, 1968. "World Bids Adieu to a Violent Year," reads the headline. (The Times story, by Murray Schumach, is real; you can read it here.)

As in "Mad Men," a sense of dread pervades the article. "Nations said farewell to a year of violence, tension, and economic uncertainty," it reminds readers, who will soon discover that the new year brings even more lurid violence than the one just past. The accompanying photograph shows two people, backs to the camera, umbrellas open against a snowstorm, walking through a deserted Central Park. It's bleak.

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Wonkbook: Obama isn't leading on immigration, and that's a good thing

Wonkbook: Obama isn't leading on immigration, and that's a good thing

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

A common trope in Washington is that to achieve any particular end, the president must "lead." If the end in question is not being achieved, then it is because the president is not doing enough leading.

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How immigration reform is scrambling American politics

How immigration reform is scrambling American politics

The overriding fact driving almost everything that happens in American politics right now is that both elections and governance are zero-sum games between the two parties: For one side to win, the other side has to lose.

The sole major exception is immigration reform. On this one issue, both parties -- and, importantly, their allied interest groups -- see the game as positive sum. They believe they can both win.

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It's a bad time to be a worker who isn't flexible. But does that explain the weak job market?

It's a bad time to be a worker who isn't flexible. But does that explain the weak job market?

We're approaching the four year anniversary of the economic recovery, and it still doesn't feel like much of one, what with the unemployment rate at 7.7 percent and wages stagnant over the last half a decade. Various economists have gone to extensive efforts to ask whether this weak labor market is driven by not by an overall shortage of demand, but rather by something peculiar to the job market at this point in time.

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It's official: The 112th Congress was the most polarized ever

It's official: The 112th Congress was the most polarized ever

Stats geeks, rejoice: The newest DW-NOMINATE figures are out! DW-NOMINATE, devised by political scientists Keith Poole (now at the University of Georgia) and Howard Rosenthal (now at NYU), is the industry standard system for measuring how members of the House and Senate compare to each other ideologically.

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Majorities, not moderates, make legislating easier

"Fewer Moderates Make Deals Harder," reads the headline on the Associated Press story.

What follows is an accurate summation of a Congress that's growing more polarized yoked to an inaccurate analysis of what it means. "Moderates" don't make legislating easier. Majorities make legislating easier.

The first time the article mentions an actual election, it's to say that "Inthe Senate, moderate Scott Brown (R-Mass.) lost to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who will be one of the most liberal members." That's probably true so far as it goes, but it undercuts the article's thesis. It will certainly be easier for Harry Reid to put together 51 votes -- and perhaps even 60 votes -- with Warren in that seat than it was when he had to coax Brown over to his side.

How Tuesdays elections made Congress more polarized, in one chart

How Tuesdays elections made Congress more polarized, in one chart

When you want to get quantitative about the policy views of members of Congress, your first stop should always be DW-NOMINATE. The scale, which uses Congressional votes and other data to place representatives and senators on a left-right spectrum, was devised by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal in the early 1980s and has been making data nerds happy ever since.

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The Senate may not get more Democratic, but it could get a lot more liberal

The Senate may not get more Democratic, but it could get a lot more liberal

Most analysts expect Democrats to maintain their current edge in the Senate after Tuesday’s election, plus or minus a few seats. But that doesn’t mean that the body won’t change considerably.

Thanks to retirements and primary defeats, the ideological composition of both parties could change considerably. Wisconsin’s Herb Kohl (D) will likely be replaced with the much more liberal Tammy Baldwin (D), Indiana’s Richard Lugar (R) was beaten by the more conservative Richard Mourdock (R) in the primary, and so forth.

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Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s strategy worked

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s strategy worked

I’ve spent the morning reading various endorsements of Mitt Romney for president, and they all say the same thing: Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s strategy worked.

Okay, that’s not quite how they put it. But it’s precisely what they show. In endorsement after endorsement, the basic argument is that President Obama hasn’t been able to persuade House or Senate Republicans to work with him. If Obama is reelected, it’s a safe bet that they’ll continue to refuse to work with him. So vote Romney!

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A portrait of Washington in 2012

A portrait of Washington in 2012

The White House is reportedly looking for an alternative to the payroll tax cut that does the same thing as the payroll tax cut but isn’t called the payroll tax cut. This might seem a bit odd to you. But it’s a perfectly natural by-product of the GOP’s strategy of denying President Obama popular accomplishments.

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The middle class isn’t losing more jobs than usual. But it is losing more money.

The middle class isn’t losing more jobs than usual. But it is losing more money.

Talk of “two Americas” feels like 2004 election kitsch at this point, but for some economists, it’s a going concern. The Great Recession, according to a popular theory known as “job polarization,” has led to a loss of middle-income jobs and created a new reality in which the only jobs are either lucrative and highly skilled (computer programming, for instance) or else menial and poorly remunerated (e.g. janitorial work).

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How bipartisan is Paul Ryan?

How bipartisan is Paul Ryan?

Paul Ryan is no one’s idea of a moderate, but one thing his supporters emphasize is that he’s willing and eager to work with Democrats and liberals. He and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden released a policy paper on Medicare together.. Before that he worked on a separate Medicare proposal with Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin. It’s enough to make Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute dub Ryan a “classic ‘half a loaf’ type of conservative.”

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There’s too much trust in the Senate

There’s too much trust in the Senate

Quick recap: Tyler Cowen wrote that our policy outcomes reflected the declining trust voters have in the government. I argued that they reflected political gridlock, and appeared to have little evident relationship to who or what voters trusted.

Cowen’s reply, published on Tuesday, is provocative. “I view political polarization as another manifestation of lack of trust,” he writes.

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Of course the Supreme Court is political

Of course the Supreme Court is political

A poll  of former Supreme Court clerks found that 57 percent think the individual mandate will be overturned — up from 35 percent before the oral arguments. The InTrade political betting markets put the odds of an overturn at 76 percent. “The Supremes haven’t handed down their ruling yet, and they could still surprise us,” writes Kevin Drum. But:

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Of course the Supreme Court is political

Of course the Supreme Court is political

A poll  of former Supreme Court clerks found that 57 percent think the individual mandate will be overturned — up from 35 percent before the oral arguments. The InTrade political betting markets put the odds of an overturn at 76 percent. “The Supremes haven’t handed down their ruling yet, and they could still surprise us,” writes Kevin Drum. But:

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Olympia Snowe is right about American politics. Will we listen?


(Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images)
According to the Voteview ideological ranking system, the most moderate Democratic senator in the 112th Congress — that’s this session, for those keeping track — is Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. The most moderate Republican senator is Maine’s Olympia Snowe. And as of today, they’re both retiring.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. For years, our increasingly polarized political system has been culling moderate members. To see this in video form, click the clip below. It’s a visualization of congressional polarization beginning with the very first Congress and running right through today. And if you fast forward toward the end, where we are, you’ll see the pattern progress right in front of you: The Ds and the Rs in the middle — those are the centrists — keep disappearing, and the masses of Ds and Rs keep moving farther away from each other.

That’s American politics today: two parties, no touching. And that’s part of why Snowe is retiring. “[W]hat I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be,” Snowe said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.”

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The 2012 election will not solve Washington’s problems


(Vote View)
Politico poobahs John Harris and Jonathan Allen say the era of bipartisan compromise is over, or at least both sides believe it to be. That seems right. But they also quote Kevin McCarthy, the third-in-command for the House Republicans, predicting that the issues paralyzing Washington will get decided in the election. “2012 is going to be the argument for the size and scope of what they want America to be,” he says. He’s wrong.

If this was the United Kingdom or France or some other country with a parliamentary system, McCarthy would, for the purposes of wielding power, be correct. There would be an election, one side or the other side would win, and the winners would implement their agenda. But we don’t have a parliamentary system.

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Column: No Labels gets congressional dysfunction right


John Holman, of Denver, Colo., right, and others with the group No Labels, take part in a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 18, 2011, to urge Congress and the president to find a bipartisan solution to the fiscal crisis. (Jacquelyn Martin - Associated Press)
“No Labels.” Even the name is annoying. For one thing, it’s a label. There’s no branding quite like anti-branding, which in this case is even perched atop a slogan: “Not left. Not right. Forward.”

It reminds me of nothing so much as the cartoon character Kang’s stump speech from “The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VII”: “My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball, but tonight I say, we must move forward not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom.”

The problem, of course, is that Americans disagree about which direction is forward. Is it toward universal health care? Or away from it? Toward policies to curb climate change? Or away from them? Toward more rights for gay and lesbian couples? Or toward a constitutional amendment enshrining the primacy of traditional marriage?

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