Jack Balkin: jackbalkin at yahoo.com
Bruce Ackerman bruce.ackerman at yale.edu
Ian Ayres ian.ayres at yale.edu
Corey Brettschneider corey_brettschneider at brown.edu
Mary Dudziak mary.l.dudziak at emory.edu
Joey Fishkin joey.fishkin at gmail.com
Heather Gerken heather.gerken at yale.edu
Abbe Gluck abbe.gluck at yale.edu
Mark Graber mgraber at law.umaryland.edu
Stephen Griffin sgriffin at tulane.edu
Jonathan Hafetz jonathan.hafetz at shu.edu
Jeremy Kessler jkessler at law.columbia.edu
Andrew Koppelman akoppelman at law.northwestern.edu
Marty Lederman msl46 at law.georgetown.edu
Sanford Levinson slevinson at law.utexas.edu
David Luban david.luban at gmail.com
Gerard Magliocca gmaglioc at iupui.edu
Jason Mazzone mazzonej at illinois.edu
Linda McClain lmcclain at bu.edu
John Mikhail mikhail at law.georgetown.edu
Frank Pasquale pasquale.frank at gmail.com
Nate Persily npersily at gmail.com
Michael Stokes Paulsen michaelstokespaulsen at gmail.com
Deborah Pearlstein dpearlst at yu.edu
Rick Pildes rick.pildes at nyu.edu
David Pozen dpozen at law.columbia.edu
Richard Primus raprimus at umich.edu
K. Sabeel Rahmansabeel.rahman at brooklaw.edu
Alice Ristroph alice.ristroph at shu.edu
Neil Siegel siegel at law.duke.edu
David Super david.super at law.georgetown.edu
Brian Tamanaha btamanaha at wulaw.wustl.edu
Nelson Tebbe nelson.tebbe at brooklaw.edu
Mark Tushnet mtushnet at law.harvard.edu
Adam Winkler winkler at ucla.edu
In my last
post I argued that regime change will occur with or without transformative
leadership on the order of Jackson or Lincoln. In this post, I take up two
important questions posed by Corey Robin.
First, how can a new dominant party
system emerge under conditions of high polarization? Robin argues that polarization "is antithetical to the idea of disjunction, to
the scrambling of the electorate and defections of party politicians that we see
under disjunctive regimes." Polarization keeps the Republicans together so they don't split apart and create an opening for a new dominant party.
Second, Robin points out, reconstructions from the left have been led by powerful social movements like anti-slavery and labor. What are we to
make of the fact that the Democrats don’t seem to be a social movement party?
As to the
first point, it’s important to understand that asymmetric polarization—whereby
the Republican party has moved decisively to the right while the Democrats have
moved only slightly to the left—has helped cause
the breakup of the contemporary Republican Party, not prevented it. But how can that be, if, as Robin argues,
polarization binds party members every more tightly to each other?
When we look
for signs of a coalition’s demise, we generally look for fights within the
party's existing base. These fights are a bad sign for the coalition’s health. But the reason
why they are a bad sign is that they may eventually cause people to leave the
party. Fights are a symptom of collapse—but the actual collapse is losing
relative numbers of voters vis a vis the ascending coalition.
there are two ways for a collation to lose members: one is defection to the new coalition. The other is the inability to reproduce the coalition in
the next generation.An example of the
first phenomenon is Reagan Democrats leaving the New Deal Coalition and signing
on to the Reagan coalition. An example of the second phenomenon is young baby
boomers and Gen X’ers deciding that they like the Republicans better and voting
Republican most of their adult lives.
asymmetric polarization does not cause messy breakups of the kind that happened
within the Democratic Party in the 1970s. Instead, polarization (ironically) makes defection less
salient, because the people who stay agree with each other and more. Even more important, assymmetric polarization makes it increasingly difficult for the coalition to reproduce itself in the
next generation. In a depolarized politics, defection may be as important to the end of a coalition as the failure of the party to reproduce its coalition in the next generation. In a polarized politics, my guess is that failure to reproduce is the more important phenomenon.
Quiet defections vs noisy defections: Begin with defection. When
people see that the party is ever more ideologically blinkered and impervious
to reality, it causes them to think that it’s not even worth fighting for the
soul of the party, and they just leave the party. This makes defection less
salient than in situations in which there is a dramatic ongoing struggle. That is, we get "quiet" rather than "noisy" defections.
educated voters and professionals, who used to be a crucial part of the
traditional Republican party in the middle of the twentieth century, have been
leaving the party for some time now. They have left relatively quietly. And if
you think about it, in a party increasingly dominated by conservative media,
talk radio, and Fox News, they would not get a chance to air their grievances
all that much anyway. (Who was the primary
talking head in the Fox News prime-time lineup standing up for educated
professionals and moderate Republicanism? Hannity, Limbaugh, and O’Reilly appealed
to working class whites and repeatedly denounced elite culture.)
polarization--and the media strategy that accompanied it-- likely dampened the voices of
people who ultimately left the party. Perhaps more to the point, given the media strategy and the move to conservative identity politics, defection wasn't all that serious a problem. The Republican
Party has traded in professionals and college graduates for working-class
whites, and because there are many more working-class whites than college
educated whites, the loss is hardly noticeable. Indeed, if the party can attract
enough white-working class voters into the party, it may be a very good
bargain. That, it seems, has been the
point of the party’s flirtation with a politics organized around white
identity, Christian identity, and perpetual grievance.
Reproduction of the coalition over time:
However, and far more important, a party’s coalition has to reproduce itself
over time in order to stay viable nationally. That means that a successful political
party is not only a coalition of interest
groups, but also a coalition of generations.
There have to be lots of young Republicans constantly joining the party as well as old Republicans, or the
party withers away.
To be blunt,
asymmetric polarization has poisoned this process of generational replacement.
As David Brooks noted in a recent column, most young people really seem to hate the Republican party. They hate it
precisely because it has polarized.So instead of a fight within the party—the
familiar scenario of a coalition that breaks apart— young people just don’t
show up in the first place.
If we view
disjunction through the lens of the Republican Party in the 1930s or the Democratic
Party in the 1980s, we are likely to be misled.Those disjunctions occurred in relatively non-polarized times. Polarization,
however, creates its own distinctive form of coalitional breakdown, whose
mechanisms are a bit different.
Paul Simon, there must be fifty ways to leave your party—or never join it in the
the fact that the Democrats are not a social movement party?Here, I think that Corey Robin is right when
he says that we are moving toward “a purely political reconstruction, shorn of
the social movements that helped make previous left reconstructions what they
were.” But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a new dominant party. It just
means that the new regime will not have the same kind of transformative energy.
Yet if we
separate regime change from reconstructive presidential leadership and a social
movement party, what do we have left? We continue to have the rise and fall of
governing coalitions. We continue to have a new dominant party-- most likely
the Democrats. The president will still appoint the federal judiciary, and
still control the federal bureaucracy. Constitutional change will continue
apace in the federal courts. The bureaucracy will still engage in interstitial
But legislative reforms will occur more slowly. The Democrats will have
to regain the Senate and get rid of the filibuster, because it makes no sense
in a polarized politics with parliamentary style parties.For this reason, I do not expect a flurry of
legislative reforms in the beginning of the next regime, as happened in the
may be only modest, slow change, which will often be frustrating. Skowronek predicts that presidential leadership styles will become
more similar to each other. The President’s job will increasingly become artful
policy management in the face of institutional constraints. Presidents may have
only limited options to change the system. Politics may offer only
opportunities for pragmatic adjustments, compromises, and policy kludges. Of course, if, heaven forbid, we face a serious crisis or emergency, or a war on our own soil, that will change the opportunities for transformative leadership significantly.
accumulated impediments will fall away, decay, or be overthrown. Opportunities
for reconstructive leadership may someday emerge again. (Once again, crisis and emergency may create these opportunities.) A social movement may
yet arise and take over the Democratic Party.But all that is still in the future. In the early years of the regime,
at least, we should not expect the second coming of FDR.
If you are
an economic egalitarian hoping for substantial change, this account is likely
to leave you deeply dissatisfied. The best you may be able to hope for is a
series of Obama-like reforms. That is not nothing—but it is not the New Deal.
to understand our current situation is to look at the likely configuration of
the political parties in the coming regime. That is the subject of the next