There aren’t too many people with an idea that will actually change how you think about American politics. But Frances Lee is one of them. In her new book, Insecure Majorities, Lee makes a point that sounds strange when you hear it, but changes everything once you understand it.
For most of American history, American politics has been under one-party rule. For decades, that party was the Republican Party. Then, for decades more, it was the Democratic Party. It’s only been in the past few decades that control of Congress has begun flipping back every few years, that presidential elections have become routinely decided by a few percentage points, that both parties are always this close to gaining or losing the majority.
That kind of close competition, Lee shows, makes the daily compromises of bipartisan governance literally irrational. And politicians know it. Lee’s got the receipts.
"Confrontation fits our strategy,” Dick Cheney once said. "Polarization often has very beneficial results. If everything is handled through compromise and conciliation, if there are no real issues dividing us from the Democrats, why should the country change and make us the majority?”
Why indeed? This is a conversation about that question, about how the system we have incentivizes a politics of confrontation we don’t seem to want and makes steady, stable governance a thing of the past.
The Imprint of Congress by David R. Mayhew
Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson
Congress's Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers by Josh Chafetz
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