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Drew Westen on Politics


Speaking of things that rarely end well…

…as a couple commenters have pointed out, I agree that there’s one flaw in John’s generally astute analysis. Looking only at final vote tallies obscures some elements of dissent, and misses some of the ways in which the Democtartic caucus is less coherent. If you look at the Senate vote on the ACA, for example, it looks like the caucuses are equally unified. But every Republican stuck to the leadership line of “nothing,” while conservative Democrats had a huge impact on shaping the legislation and made it worse than the House bill. My problem with Westen here is that, as always, he ignores fundamental institutional structures of American politics and instead engages in unproductive psychological speculation. The more-unified Republican caucus isn’t primarily a result of their “attitude toward authority and hierarchy” but of the fact that because conservative regions of the country are massively overrrepresented in Congress Republicans need fewer ideological outliers to put majorities together. After all, if you buy Westen’s framework, then Blue Dog and conservative Senate Democtats should be the most receptive to taking “marching orders” from the leadership, but of course the reverse is true.

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  • Wannabe Speechwriter

    Where’s the link?

    • Scott Lemieux


  • Murc

    That is an excellent takedown, with one caveat, at least for me.

    I’ve always found the ‘percentage voting with their party’ statistic to be… less than wholly useful. Congress votes on a lot of shit that’s procedural or unsubstantial. I could give a flying fuck if Ben Nelson casts a vote in favor of keeping the lights on; I care if he’s going to kneecap us on the massive structural changes the country desperately needs. By the same token I just don’t care how often Susan Collins maverickyness leads her to buck her party on issues of no real consequence if she’s going to roll over and show throat when it comes to sustaining filibusters or killing much-needed initiatives.

    This isn’t to say its entirely useless. Someone with a very low or very high figure on the ‘votes with party’ stat is telling us something. But on the whole I don’t trust it.

    • Brautigan


      All you need to know about this useless metric is that the Admin & Party leadership continually trotted it out to cover Lieberman’s sorry ass.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Without in any way endorsing Weston, I also don’t think that the mere fact that most independent voters “loyally” (i.e. regularly) vote for one of the two major parties ,eam that they are satisfied with that party. Our political system gives us very few choices. The Democratic choice is almost always significantly less bad than the Republican choice. So I almost always vote for the Democrat…and I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life. Yet I’m an independent because I really am not satisfied with the Democratic Party. My guess is that this set of attitudes is pretty typical of Democratic-leaning independents. It’s why we’re independents. And Republican-leaning independents are similar.

    The notion that the only “true” independents are those that are equally likely to vote for both parties effectively assumes that the two parties define the boundaries of possible political belief.

  • wiley

    In action, the Democratic party doesn’t have the problem with being “like herding cats” to the degree that is typical of liberals, though the Blue Dogs are maddening. It is true, however, that the Blue Dogs often could not get elected being truly liberal in their state, and so they are often actually being representative of their constituents when they act like assholes.

    I would like to take a moment to encourage everyone to write to their representatives regularly and to thank them and praise them when you think they are doing things right, and to donate to their campaigns when you approve of their job performance. It must be a bitch to work your ass off in this Congress and then only hear the complaints. Honey works as well, and often better than vinegar.

    I’ve also started to contribute to the campaigns of people running for Congress in other states. I rarely have complaints about Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, and Representative Schrader.
    They don’t give me much to complain about, but I do write them regularly to show appreciation, and am working on a letter with names, dates, and facts to address the poor quality of Tri-Care insurance for veterans to answer their request for more information. They are all quite helpful and solicitous of their constituents (and donors) opinion.

    A liberal Congress will do us a hell of a lot more good than a liberal president (whose job it is to representall Americans), so if we want to have more liberal legislation, we need to pay attention, vote in the midterms, and press our representatives for the legislation we want.

    • You must live under a rock, and a rock without the internet, to boot.

      Why, if you just elect a liberal president, you don’t need a liberal Congress, or any Congress at all.

      This is especially true — and I know this is a bit paradoxical — when the liberal president isn’t actually a liberal.

      • wiley

        Yes, Davis. I live under a rock without the internet. Isn’t that obvious?

        • I inadvertently left out the part about how having the not-liberal president wanting it bad enough is the absolutely essential thing. Votes may be necessary, but not sufficient.

          The desire is all.

  • Michael Drew

    Oh, man. Man, oh man.

  • The figures for party voting only show us the end result of a process, ignoring all of the dissent that took place when bills were being brought up and considered.

    Look at the ACA, or the ARRA.

    • Scott Lemieux

      A fair point. I do think that there’s more internal dissent than the vote tallies show. However, I think this has far more to do with the overrepresentation of rural districts in Congress than Democrats having less “authoritarian personalities.”

      • Hogan

        Also this:

        Whether because he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do or because he took the laissez-faire attitude toward leadership that bedevils the Democratic Party, President Obama let a Democratic Congress craft his signature legislation on health care.

        Why does the NYT have someone who’s never heard of Bill and Hillary Clinton writing about politics?

        • Scott Lemieux

          Aside from his fundamental inability to comprehend even the most basic realities of the American legislative process, this argument collapses on itself. Apparently, Democratic members of Congress are individualists who don’t want to bow down to nobody — who the President could rule like a king if only he wanted to do it.

          • Hogan

            Or he couldn’t and would end up getting nothing if he tried, so he actually did the smart thing. But never mind–that can’t possibly be the REAL reason he did it. I’m a psychiatrist; I know these things.

        • An excellent point, Hogan.

          If Hillary had won, man, she would have told Congress exactly what she wanted, and gotten it too!

          • Fail


            The Clintons were referenced because President Clinton tried the top down method with his health insurance reform with HRC as point person and failed. In his follow up Hogan then explicitly states that this top down method often leads to nothing and commends Obama for doing the smart thing.

            Hogan’s premise was readily apparent to any adult before the follow up which leads one to believe the programming used for the automated ‘Hillary response’ is very basic.

            • Perhaps you aren’t familiar with this internet tradition, but the term “Fail” is typically used in response to something that is wrong or inappropriate.

              Not merely because it draws attention to something accurate you don’t like hearing.

      • I think this has far more to do with the overrepresentation of rural districts in Congress than Democrats having less “authoritarian personalities.”

        Just so I understand: you’re saying that Democrats who represent rural districts (largely conservadems) are the primary reason there is so much more dissent and diversity in the Democratic caucus, right?

        • Scott Lemieux

          Yes. I’m not saying that’s the sole explanation, but other other major factor (the willingness of Republicans to primary more moderate candidates even in blue districts/states) directly contradicts Westen’s psychological thesis as well.

  • Bruce Baugh

    I think there’s something to Westen’s analysis if you start by not assuming that the institutional framework to which the more reactionary Democrats owe allegiance is the Democratic Party. Then there’s at least room to trace who might be acting in that role for them, with the party a convenient prop for them.

    • In the Senate especially, parties, two labels.

      Coalition government ain’t pretty.

      • insightful

        one DxM, many blogs, same comment

        Thinking is hard

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