The official lobby of the partisanship scolds is a group called “Unity ‘08″–a collection of graying eminences from both parties who are calling for a bipartisan presidential ticket, perhaps led by Bloomberg. Their rhetoric appears to be targeted at people who enjoy kittens, rainbows, and David Broder columns. Specifically, Unity ‘08 says its ticket will run on “ideas and traditions which unite and empower us as individuals and as a people.”
Well, that’s nice. Unfortunately, when the partisanship scolds get a little more specific, things tend to break down. The first problem is that they can’t agree on whether partisanship is making Washington pay too much attention to public opinion or too little. Bloomberg says the former: “When you go to Washington now, you can feel a sense of fear in the air–the fear to do anything, or say anything, that might affect the polls, or give the other side an advantage.” Unity ‘08, on the other hand, says the latter: Neither party, it claims, “reflects the aspirations, fears, or will of the majority of Americans.”
The second problem is that the partisanship scolds are extremely vague about which chunk of Americans is being left out by the growing extremism in Washington. It is true that some broadly popular views are underrepresented in national politics. A detailed political typology released by the Pew Center in 2005 showed that Democratic voters are not as socially liberal as their leaders and Republican voters are not nearly as economically conservative. So there is a sizeable base of socially traditionalist, economically populist voters to be had. Unfortunately, the partisanship scolds invariably cater to exactly the opposite demographic: elites who favor free trade, open immigration, cutting entitlements, and social tolerance.
Third, in the age of George W. Bush, the substance of the partisanship scold ideology is no longer, by any reasonable definition, centrist. They are moderate Democrats who don’t want to admit it.
Me: I pretty much agree with all of this. I would only add it has pretty much been ever thus. As I’ve discussed around here countless times, I generally think folks who say they “don’t believe in labels” have almost always been liberals who are embarrassed or otherwise put off by the prospect of admitting it. You very rarely hear a conservative say how we should “get beyond ideology” or “move past partisan differences” but you hear it from liberals like Al Gore and Hillary Clinton constantly (as well from Republican moderates like Specter, Snowe et al). And yet, when politicians say we need to put aside our differences they never mean they should put aside their objections to conservative ideas. What they mean is that the inconvenient ideologues and partisans should stop getting in their way and join the program.
Anyway, as I said, this is an old gripe of mine. What would be interesting is to hear Chait explain why he thinks liberals and Democrats are reluctant to admit that’s what they are.
Note: In the past when I’ve raised this point, liberal readers have griped that the reason some liberals are afraid to call themselves liberals is that conservatives have so demonized the word (they never leave open the possibility that the damage to the liberal label was done by liberals themselves). Whatever merit this explanation might have — I am skeptical — it’s hard to square with the supposed ascendancy of liberalism, the shift in climate toward big government and the Democratic party and so on. So why are all of these moderate liberals and Democrats afraid to say that’s what they are?