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Political scientist Frances Lee: bipartisanship is irrational (right now)

I recently listened to an excellent interview on the Ezra Klein Show podcast, in which he interviewed Princeton University political scientist Frances Lee. Lee’s basic point is that when control of government is so closely contested, bipartisan compromise is difficult and rare because it is irrational. Here are the essential points from the interview:

  1. Our government system is designed to require bi-partisan compromise in order to function.
  2. The incentives of our system discourage compromise when the margin of control between the parties is small.
  3. This is because the minority party increases its chances of regaining control if it prevents the majority party from governing effectively.
  4. The party in power is typically blamed for failure to acquire the bipartisan support necessary to govern, yet the power to prevent bipartisanship lies primarily with the minority.
  5. The minority party has this power because they have so many ways to “veto” the majority.
  6. Competition increases when the margin of control is close.
  7. We have gotten used to bipartisanship being “normal” because we have experienced long periods of time during which one or the other party dominated.
  8. This was due to historical crises that discredited the other party.
  9. It was reinforced by the parties overlapping each other ideologically.
  10. As competition between the parties has increased in the 21st Century, the parties and their constituents have become more distinct and polarized, which in turn feeds additional competition.
  11. Absent a historical crisis or some other external event that allows one party to reassert dominance, the current status quo, in which bipartisanship is the exception rather than the rule, is likely to continue.
  12. Our government will get things done only in areas that have not become drawn into party conflict.