Both Sides Do It

Thinking that both sides in a political debate are equal and opposite forces has an intuitive appeal and may sometimes accurately describe our political environment. We see individuals behaving badly in many walks of life. When it comes down to individual cases of political corruption for personal gain, we do not generally hear "Oh those Democrats" or "Oh those Republicans". However, this heuristic of political reporters to just apply "both sides do it" fails to adequately explain behavior of political action in favor of policy choices. In fact, this heuristic is a close relative of seeking truth by staging debates between two individuals with starkly divergent conclusions who exist in the same factual universe.What if neither extreme side in the debate is right and the truth is somewhere in between?

In the ideal case, we would prefer two or more completely objective observers who possess the necessary expertise, proper tools, and cooperative nature to perform the analysis to help us reach the correct conclusion. In the matter of policy choices, we would want to know all of the policy options, who is hurt and who is helped and how much, costs, and other advantages and disadvantages. Then, the political debate over options can take place based on agreement on the facts. This is the model for the work of the Congressional Budget Office and highlights why it is so important to "keep politics out of it".

We have previously posted on the Bush Social Security advisory panel that masqueraded as a "bipartisan" panel of Democrats and Republicans, but which was stacked with members in favor of switching to an account based program. In the future, the hops would be that Social Security reforms would be the result of the two-step approach: (1) Objective evaluation of all of the options that anyone would want to consider, followed by (2) Political debate of the options, based on policy goals including fairness, cost, and proper role of government and taking into account transition from the old program to the new program.

As our society faces new challenges, we need respect for certain concepts of fair play. Otherwise, our system could collapse if there is no respect for the rules. For example, in a cynical ploy, the Electoral Commission in 2005 appointed by President George W. Bush consisted of 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans. The party balance was required by law, but two of the Democrats were "Democrats" in name only, having recently changed party allegiance from Republican presumably and in all appearances just to be appointed to the Commission. Any one such cynical ploy will not be enough to bring down our system, but the accumulation of cynical ploys by Republicans to take and hold power is a growing threat to democracy.

On this blog, we identify instances of "upping the ante", that is, examples of political actions that are somehow new and go "beyond the pale" of what has been done in the past. Despite protestations to the contrary on the "Biden rule" and Senator Schumer's statements, the refusal to consider the President's nomination to the Supreme Court does up the ante and go beyond the pale. Whether or not Republicans retain control of the Senate, if there is a Clinton presidency,  we can expect delays in the approval process in 2017, potentially indefinitely.

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