Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hyper-Rationality in American Politics

Ronald Brownstein has a fascinating article about the increasing role Republican governors are playing in opposing Obama:
Whatever the governors’ motivations (one man’s posturing, after all, is another man’s principle), their unreserved enlistment into Washington’s wars marks a milestone. It creates a second line of defense for conservatives to contest Obama even after he wins battles in Congress. It tears another hole in the fraying conviction that state capitals are less partisan than Washington. And it creates a precedent that is likely to encourage more guerrilla warfare between Democratic governors and a future Republican president.
American politics increasingly resembles a kind of total war in which each party mobilizes every conceivable asset at its disposal against the other. Most governors were once conscientious objectors in that struggle. No more. 
Ezra Klein (who's really been on lately) extends the observation by adding the courts to the list of new political weapons being deployed against Obama. These trends fit with my hypothesis about why our politics is so dysfunctional: politicians are increasingly rational (maximizing political utility) and better able to make correct political calculations.

We've already seen this hyper-rationality change the nature of federal legislative politics by eliminating internal geographic diversity in favor of party-rationality (where the only coalition is the party). What's scary now is that this homogenization process is occurring both horizontally across our governmental structure (the judicial branch) and vertically through the layers of federalism (state governors). Dynamic and ever-shifting political coalitions are critical to a healthy democracy, and if party identification continues to eliminate all other concerns (ex. state well-being, proper legal analysis), we ought to explore options for transitioning away from a two-party system. If every last bit of government becomes consumed by political hyper-rationality based on party, zero-sum will be the name of the game. I wonder what the Green Party is up to...

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