The Election: Musing on the Future of Politics – Is There a Path to Bipartisan Politics?

Early Tuesday morning, at 6 am in New York City, polls will open across the nation and tens of millions of Americans will choose a president; millions will have already cast ballots in thirty-four early voting states voting. Unfortunately about a third of eligible Americans will not bother voting.
The polling is all over the place, I tried to parse the polling a few days ago (Read here), and, it was nice to see a Washington Monthly agreeing; it’s all about the low and haphazard polling response rates.
As the sun dips early on Tuesday, daylight savings time ended on Saturday, crowds will back up at polling locations as voters return from work. As the polls close, 9 pm in New York City, we’ll be glued to our media of choice. If the map is blue, if Hillary takes New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North /Carolina and Florida, the sweep will be on. If not, a long, long night.


A quick lesson: the candidate with the most votes doesn’t necessarily win – each state has a number of electoral votes equal to the members of Congress, fifty-one separate elections.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

a total of 535 electoral votes plus three for the District of Columbia – 538 electoral votes – a majority, 270, required for victory.

The District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct: A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but in no event more than the least populous state.

Whoever is elected, hopefully Hillary, will face a sharply divided partisan Congress. Politics in this nation is broken, and we broke it.

Electoral politics has always been nasty. Opponents of George Washington called him “King George,” convinced he would rule as a monarch.Jefferson did everything he could to denigrate and damage Hamilton, his bitter enemy (Read The Hamilton Affair: A Novel, Elizabeth Cobbs – 2016). Lincoln was portrayed as a gorilla. Republican candidate James Blaine accused opponent Grover Cleveland of fathering an illegitimate child and marched through the streets chanting, ” Ma. Ma, where’s my pa?” After Cleveland won his admirers marched through the streets chanting, “Went to the White House, ha ha ha.”

Politics in the nation was party politics; we pulled the lever for our party without too much concern over the candidate. Party politics began to unravel in the 60’s; the sharp divisions over the war in Vietnam and civil rights legislation moved the parties in different directions. Tom Hayden and others led a revolt at the 1968 Democratic National Convention that shattered the party and resulted in two terms of Richard Nixon and a party that has never fully recovered. (Sol Stern reminds us of the impact of Hayden here) The traditional Democratic Party: labor unions, the progressive left, minorities, women, the young has been battling internally for the soul of the party. Jimmy Carter won as a reaction to the Nixon impeachment, Clinton and Obama actually ran outside the party, neither was the choice of the party fathers.

The Republicans put together a Southern Strategy, appealing to covert and overt racist sentiments prevalent among whites in the South. Add the gun crowd, the Evangelicals, disaffected white males; a voter base that elected white Republicans throughout the South, and, elected Donald Trump as their candidate, a candidate far outside the Republican camp. The Republican strategy was usurped by a reality star.

In spite of the wails of progressives about the nature of elections today we get the elections we deserve; constant, unrelenting personal attacks erode support for the opposition. If your goal is to lower taxes on the wealthy, outlaw abortion, convert Medicare to a voucher program, recreate segregated schools by supporting vouchers, you can only accomplish it by destroying your opponents. To the public issues are boring, sex, violence and scandal mean eyes on the screen. For eight years the Republicans attacked Bill and Hillary, personal attacks weakened Bill’s ability to pass legislation. Republicans would lose national debates over issues; they have succeeded, to some extent, in impairing Bill Clinton and Obama’s ability to govern. Paul Krugman says it much better than I can here.

Progressive democrats abjure “dirty politics,” and lose elections.

Effective teachers know they have to meet the students where the students are before they can raise them to where we want them to be. Democrats who proudly remained “above the fray,” disconnected from the sans-culotte; politics, from time to time, means rolling in the mud, it is not an intellectual pursuit.

Donald Trump may become president because he tapped in to the dark side of Americans, The harder the hit at a football game the louder we cheer, concussion protocols are booed; smashing an opponent into the boards at a hockey game, or better, a fight, wild cheers. Obnoxious (to me, obnoxious) lyrics in rap are commonplace, TV shows and movies trivialize the most violent acts, and we choose to click on newspaper articles that involve sex, violence and corruption.

Social media provides a platform for the vilest exchange of insults.

Southern strategys within the Republican Party made Donald Trump possible. The Grand Old Party isn’t so grand; Tea Party versus Evangelical versus mainstream (i. e., Paul Ryan) may not be able to dance. On the Democratic side the left, or progressive or Bernie wing, whatever you want to call it, is in combat with the “electeds” wing, the Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid party leaders. Too many Democrats are sitting on the sidelines during this election cycle, in my view like the angry child crying because s/he didn’t get his way.

A freshman House member met with Speaker Sam Rayburn, “Mr. Speaker, I noticed that in the Rivers and Harbors Bill cities without either a river or a harbor are receiving funding,” Rayburn (perhaps apocryphally) “Young man, you’re messing with the testicles of the universe.”

Lyndon Johnson, with Rayburn as Speaker of the House, passed the most significant civil rights legislation since the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Johnson was able to “wheel and deal,” to offer this thing for that vote, the ebb and flow that had characterized the legislative process.  The progressives ended:”ear marks,” (Read progressive view attacking the process here) that created the space for the deal-making).  Lincoln probably offered jobs in exchange for votes to pass the 13th Amendment in Congress.

All of the above brings me back to Federalist # 51,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

 Madison’s simple words, But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  is prescient. Anyone can sit at a computer and anonymously spew the most vicious hate.

If we turned off the TV set, refused to buy newspapers that spew hate, conducted civil discourse on social media sites, “unfriended” the haters, maybe, just maybe, the political strategists would change their ways.

Will the Republicans continue playing the attack dog?  Continue to obfuscate, to pursue a path of politics by destruction? Will the Democrats choose party leaders with the ability to negotiate and fight?

The best path for the parties, both Democrat and Republican, to rebuild, to recreate themselves, is to produce meaningful bipartisan legislation:

* A massive infrastructure law: tens of billions to reconstruct highways, bridges and rails.

* Full participation in environmental initiatives: global warming, alternative fuels, energy independence

* Continue to build a coast to coast cyber highway.

  • Figure out ways to fund higher education – graduates without deep debt

Can you imagine President Clinton, Democratic and Republican leaders standing on the same stage, rebuilding their parties and the nation?

Or, another round of self-destructive hyperpolitics.


One response to “The Election: Musing on the Future of Politics – Is There a Path to Bipartisan Politics?

  1. There are 2 reasons why I don’t think so. The first, is that if Hillary wins, and The Rep hold sway in the Senate, that Ryan will lead a relentless movement to, if not impeach her, to certainly remind her and the people of her total underhandedness in all things as well as herrecklessnessin guarding our nations secrets.
    The 2nd reason, is that if Trump wins, those old school republican leaders (McConnell, et. al) will almost certainly be on the outs with whatever Trump’s ideology may be about. The Republican party will almost certainly be re-defined under Trumps banner. So I dont see how the Dems in such circumstances could hope to attain a meaningful bi- partisan relationship, especially when such centerpieces of their platform are at odds with what Trump believes in. How do you compromise over Obama Care, over Common Corps, over a dated military force,over Taxes, over International Relations. and so many other major concerns? No I do not see much room for Bi-Partisan togetherness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s