The Six Points
1. Constitution sets the Framework.
Structure and function of U.S. federal government is based mostly on
majorities to win separate elections for Chief Executive and the
Legislature. (President elected by majority, both chambers of Congress
to pass a law, Supreme Court decisions, although there are quirks and
exceptions - electoral college for presidential election, filibuster in
the Senate, and others.).
2. Exactly Two Parties. Due to
majority rule in (1), political coalitions of like minded people will
tend to coalesce into two major political parties. This can be seen in
the stumbling efforts of 3rd and even 4th candidates in presidential
elections and the minor, even temporary role of 3rd and 4th parties. As
often noted in political commentary, the non-parliamentary structure of
democracy in the U.S. makes a 3rd party a spoiler for its closest minded
opponent in any election.
3. Inevitable Polarization. The
mixing of conservatives and liberals within each of the two major
political parties up until the 1960s and 1970s was mostly a historical
artifact dating from the post-Civil War era. While Richard Nixon's
Southern Strategy and the efforts of conservative strategists on a
national scale ever since are often credited with bringing conservative
Democrats into voting for Republicans in the 1970s, 1980s and ultimately
switching parties, it should be clear from the pure physics of the exercise of power, that this result, polarized parties, would have eventually prevailed.
4. Inevitable Progress.
In any modern post-industrial technologically advanced society, forward
progress in the society will generally be associated with greater
respect and better treatment for those who have been historically
disadvantaged. In our society, this has meant a positive evolution in
the expansion of rights and status of formerly oppressed minorities and
women, including LGBT minorities. The simplest way for the improvements
in social well-being to occur is
through an expanded social safety net and greater role of
government.This is the physics of societal progress. Depending
upon the actual workings of the apparatus of government, this progress
tends to occur in surges (Brown v. Board of Education, Voting Rights
Act, Civil Rights Act, Title IX, Roe v. Wade, Affordable Care Act,
Windsor decision, among others.)
5. Why Conservatives Fracture.
With only two nominal parties for citizens to choose from, each party
will be subject to some cleavage into the more extreme and more moderate
elements therein. However, the Democratic Party, as the more liberal
party, will generally suffer less divisiveness because the tensions will
be around incremental change vs. progressive surges, where the key
difference is a matter of patience. Meanwhile, the tensions in the
Republican Party, as the more conservative party, will be more starkly
between the more moderate, who may be willing to fight to mitigate and
shape the changes in society more to their liking by compromise vs. the
conservatives among the Republicans, for whom every compromise is either (i) one of
a series of small losses or (ii)a strategic loss.
6. Playing to Win. Therefore, the
only successful strategy for the more conservative wing of the
Republicans is to adopt tactics that fight every progressive step in
society that is attempted in legislation, Presidential actions, and
court cases. A scorched earth strategy of opposition to the Democrats at
every turn combined with efforts to roll back progressive measures in
society is THE ONLY WINNING STRATEGY available to the most conservative
caucus among the Republican Party. As
society has progressed, the tactic of pure obstructionism of legislation is not
sufficient for victory. This posture is being supplemented by an
aggressive roll-back strategy, which includes multiple court
challenges to existing legislation.
If you can accept
each of the above arguments as correct or even approximately correct,
simple logic leads to a number of useful logical consequences. Actually,
only point #6 is needed to understand what is going on, but points #1
through #5 help us understand why this is.
are interesting because (i) it's a matter of tactics, not people, so a
lot of observed behavior in American politics can be explained without
even discussing the personalities of the players, (ii) there is no need
to worry about political bias in drawing reasonable and useful
conclusions about the current state of affairs based on the physics of
power, and, most of all, (ii) individual behavior of politicians can be
explained in terms of a rational strategy, even as brilliant tactics,
rather than being considered irrational. The corollaries can help us
better understand the failures of the
"objective" journalists and craft solutions for our society.
The Key Conclusions
False Equivalence - based on The Six Points, the only
conservative Republican strategy for victory is to be strictly
obstructionist in order to block legislation that Democrats sponsor or
are willing to pass. Therefore, when journalists say "both sides do it"
as a knee-jerk reaction to "partisan politics" they are completely
ignoring the terms of engagement based on the competitive landscape.
Dysfunction - dysfunction is built into the system. Sooner or later the system starts to break down due to the assymetry of the incentives for conservative Republicans vs. Democrats. Many commentators have described this phenomenon.
- any discussion of polarization of the parties in Congress or the
electorate is not an accurate description unless it considers the
different strategic positioning of the Republican and Democratic sides
due to the existing structure.
Pressure Points - the
rational actors who have an incentive to change their behavior in order
to seek better solutions are (1) the moderate Republican members of
Congress and (2) objective journalists.
jeopardize maintaining a majority coalition with conservative
Republicans capable of governing if they frequently compromise with
Democrats. Moderate Republicans could join conservative Republicans in
opposing progressive policy, but recognize the importance of compromise
as critical to the proper functioning of government and well-being of
Fairness - the meaning of journalistic fairness needs to evolve from
the definition that worked in the 1960s. At that time, both major
parties included conservative and liberal elements in significant
numbers which meant that issues were often framed more frequently in
factual terms. Geroge Lakoff has written extensively on the very
different ways that conservatives and liberals think and reach
conclusions about political issues. Conservative Republicans who employ
scorched earth tactics driven by stiff opposition to a progressive
society have an incentive to avoid discussion of policy issues, such as the
likely outcomes if proposed legislation passes. Instead, the winning strategy
requires appeals to emotion and avoiding discussion of facts in support
of obstructionist tactics. Journalists who observe this behavior need to
move away from the "he-said/she-said" so-called balanced approach to coverage of politics and recognize and call out pure tactics when they see them. The
"he-said/she-said" approach easily leads to diversion from the
relevant policy points.
Beyond the Pale
strategy of employing pure adversarial tactics in order to win on policy
results in actions that are so extreme as to go "beyond the pale".
Unfortunately, these tactics are made subject to
the "he-said/she-said" journalistic approach even by the objective press , which can make them
Things will only get worse
can see that pure tactics, unencumbered by any sense that some actions
may be too extreme in and of themselves, are continuing to be employed
with no end in sight.