In response to the Washington Post’s long pattern of “plague on both sides” editorial bewailing of partisanship and polarization, TDS Co-Editor William Galston and his Brookings Institution colleague Thomas Mann penned an op-ed in that paper which aims to set the record straight.
While they share the Post’s unhappiness with the consequences for governing of polarization, Galston and Mann also insist that its “asymmetrical” nature be acknowledged:
Put simply: More than 70 percent of Republicans in the electorate identify themselves as conservative or very conservative, while only 40 percent of rank-and-file Democrats call themselves liberal or very liberal. It is far easier for congressional Republicans to forge and maintain a united front than it is for Democrats. George W. Bush pushed through his signature tax cuts and Iraq war authorization with substantial Democratic support, while unwavering Republican opposition nearly torpedoed Barack Obama’s health-reform legislation. When Democrats are in the majority, their greater ideological diversity combined with the unified opposition of Republicans induces the party to negotiate within its ranks, producing policies that not long ago would have attracted the support of a dozen Senate Republicans.
Thus, say Galston and Mann, grassroots conservatives are not only supporting but demanding the Republican congressional leadership’s obstructionism in a way that makes negotiations by Democrats largely a waste of time, and forces not just counter-polarization but difficult differences of opinion among Democrats. In a very real sense, governing has become an internal process of the Democratic Party as Republicans simply stand for opposition and obstruction:
[A] Republican Party dominated at the grass roots by angry rejection of all bipartisanship — and of all but the most limited government — may win support in the short term, but it will be hard put to cooperate productively in the serious tasks of governance.