Monday, June 10, 2013

It's Called Partisanship

Jonathan Chait has a funny piece up showing the ridiculous nature of how conservatives can relate to "government power."  He points out that the same federal judge that threw out Obamacare a few years ago, a guy named Roger Vinson, ironically also okayed the NSA program that resulted in a massive tracking of phone metadata that's been in the news recently.  Vison sees grave danger in the government requiring people to purchase health insurance:
If [the government] it has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party merely by asserting — as was done in the Act — that compelling the actual transaction is itself “commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce,” it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted. 
And at the same time he  sees nothing wrong with an interpretation of the Patriot Act that says the government has the ability to record the details about every phone call ever made in the the country.

Chait sees this as just another example of conservatives behaving badly, and it certainly is.  But what it really shows is that partisan dynamics in American politics are at least as important as ideological ones, if not more so.  In order for America's two political parties to work they have to get a lot of different groups and individuals to agree on broad base of policies they favor and then work to get that party elected and enact that policy framework.  Sometimes this is easy, people who want to cut taxes probably don't care about increasing unemployment insurance programs that much either.  Other people might just care about one issue, like abortion, and not care too much about the other stances there party takes.  But sometimes it can be hard.  In this case, economic libertarians have to check their libertarian hats at the door when comes to national security issues in order for libertarians to build a viable party with neoconservative hawks and other groups that favor a big robust national security state. 

This results in a dynamic that is great for bringing groups into your coalition, but there's nothing about it that will help insure an ideological consistent platform for the party.  This is why the GOP can call for "cutting spending" and then blast Obama for "cutting medicare" when his proposes doing that to reduce the deficit.  Or they can bemoan the deficit and defense cuts at the same time.  It's ideologically inconsistent, but it makes perfect sense for a party that wants to attack Obama for something and spend a lot on the military. 

So while it may be ridiculous for a party to blast "government overreach" and predict a Orwellian nightmare world in the future if people get access to health care and then turn around and have no problem with tracking everyone's phone calls, this is the product of partisan incentives to bring security hawks into the same party and economic libertarians.  It might show the shallowness or hypocrisy of people involved, and this can happen with Democrats too, but it doesn't show a problematic ideology.  These sorts of give and takes are necessary to hold the modern GOP coalition together.

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