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National parties mediate the differences between their regional bases. The Democrats, for example, must negotiate between the interests of their constituencies in the northeast, the upper midwest, and the west coast. What an autoworker in Detroit sees as a critical political issue from a taxi driver in New York City, and both would likely disagree with a barista in San Francisco, or a farmer in North Dakota. The result is often a mishmash of both policies and politicians: Byron Dorgan, Democratic Senator of North Dakota, holds substantially different views than Barbara Boxer, Democratic Senator of California. This is a good thing in electoral terms, as it enables political parties to contest and win national elections. Regional parties, by contrast, are usually much more consistent (though not entirely) in their ideology, policies, and politicians. This gives them a stranglehold on their particular region. But it becomes a reinforcing cycle: the politicians that emerge from a regional party are the ones that are successful in that region. Politicians who do not adhere to the ideological template are marginalized or forcibly evicted from the party. And with each success and each eviction, the party regionalizes itself further and begins the cycle all over again. This is a bad thing for political parties, as it makes it difficult for them to contest national elections and weakens them everywhere but their particular region. This syndrome is currently at play in Pennsylvania, where Republican Senator Arlen Spector is in danger from his own party. Specter's relative moderation no longer seems to fit within the increasingly conservative and increasingly Southern GOP, and so he will be challenged in the Republican primary by Pat Toomey, who's social conservatism fits much more closely with the current template. If Toomey wins, and it seems likely that he will, it is extremely difficult to see him winning against any reasonable Democratic candidate in a state that went for Barack Obama in 2008 by over 10 percentage points. Even if Specter wins, it will be by moving to the right, something that will weaken him in the general election. The likely flip of the second Senate seat in Pennsylvania to the Democrats will continue the regionalization of the Republicans, which will in turn make it more unlikely that Specter-like figures can survive in the party. The big tent is a useful electoral tool, diversity helps win elections. If the Republicans' tent continues to shrink, there will be less and less room for actual voters.

April 16, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Politics


GOP Senators effectively scuttled the initial automakers bailout bill. That was an electoral disaster waiting to happen for the Republicans in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania. That should have been clear to GOP leaders back in February, it should be even clearer to them today, when a Michigan dealership starting using that vote to sell cars by going after Southern GOP Senators:

A Michigan car dealership is using Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and southern Republicans as boogeymen in a new ad campaign. Les Stanford Chevrolet Cadillac in Dearborn, owned by brothers Paul and Gary Sanford, has released commercials showing Shelby, a fierce opponent of bailouts for U.S. automakers, warning of the industry's inevitable decline.

April 15, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Politics


As a followup to this post. The Republican Party continues to hold its base in the South and not much else. From a recent poll:

Republican Party: Northeast: 8% favorable, 82% unfavorable Midwest: 22% favorable, 68% unfavorable West: 20% favorable, 70% unfavorable South: 43% favorable, 47% unfavorable
Hat-tip to Steve Benen

April 07, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Politics


Names are no longer relevant when we look at transnational terrorism.

November 30, 2008 - Posted by Mark Jefferson in Politics


This is the deal with closing the deal: there is no deal. And, likely, there will be no deal. The Clintons, yes both of them, have not, will not and do not intend to honor any deal or follow any rules that might in any way undercut their chances to capture the Democratic presidential nomination. They are the Clintons, which in American political idiom translates into the normal rules do not apply. Nor should they. President Clinton delivered the Democratic Party from political purgatory once, and Senator Clinton has every right to believe that she can do the same thing again. Since this is NBA playoff season, allow me to use a bit of a sports metaphor: you do not call fouls on Michael Jordan with a minute remaining in the game. Love them or hate them, the Clinton

May 05, 2008 - Posted by Mark Jefferson in Politics


Among many of my politically progressive friends, the word democracy is possessed of magical, if not sacred meaning. The mere utterance of the word seems among some Progressives to function as a kind of evil spirit dispelling incantation, to be recited as much as the circumstances require in an effort to preserve the fragile experiment which is our democratic Republic. Only say the word, and we shall be healed. In fairness to my progressive friends, democracy, as they use the term, is a sign that signifies the unflagging belief in the ability of everyday people and ordinary citizens, the demos as it were, to more successfully govern themselves given the opportunity to do so. Guaranteeing that opportunity hits upon the second meaning of democracy, as it is used by Progressives. Namely, in order to ensure that the demos has the opportunity to govern themselves, we must rid our Democratic processes of and free our governing institutions from the undue influence of corporate interests and moneyed elites. Would that the people were allowed to govern themselves more fully and directly and many of our problems would be solved. Or would they? Exhibit A: Ward Connerly and the American Civil Rights Coalition (ACRC). Hope seems not to be the only act of will that springs eternal. Ward Connerly

April 08, 2008 - Posted by Mark Jefferson in Politics


Have we just seen the NBA finals an eroded democracy deserves? Apparently, hardly anyone watched this year's finals. The usual explanation for this is that two small market teams were involved (San Antonio and Cleveland), one of these teams (San Antonio) is thought by many, justly or not, to be boring, and the other is just plain bad, apart from the frequently transcendent play of its lone superstar, LeBron James. I wonder if something else is at work, too, something that (I promise) relates to the condition of democracy in the US. San Antonio got to the finals in part by beating one of the NBA's best regular season teams, the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have over the last few regular seasons built a powerhouse around their remarkable point guard, Steve Nash, and his ability to facilitate a style of play that is faster, more fluid, and more dynamic than the NBA's usual fare. Every year, though, the Suns face the question of whether they can win in the playoffs, when things called 'hard-nosed defense' and 'toughness' come to the fore. And every year, it turns out that toughness principally involves the ability to deliver and bear up equably under hacks, blows, and assaults that would have been illegal during the regular season. As Michael Wilbon of ESPN and the Washington Post put it, The Spurs treated the Suns like punching bags during their games, aided and abetted by the NBA brass in ways that we've no room to consider here. And as Toronto superstar Chris Bosh put it after his first (brief) trip to the playoffs, the refs just aren't going to call fouls, and you have to get used to it. Let's think about what this means. The NBA is an enterprise that runs the bulk of its activities under one set of rules, and then, when things matter most, suddenly changes to another set. Contenders for the ultimate reward in this enterprise may find that the traits that got them in contention are no longer useful, and that behavior that under different conditions counts as rule-breaking is now the favored path to success. The argument for this practice is that 'we don't want officials deciding games.' But if officials are meant to apply the rules, and thereby safeguard the integrity of the enterprise, then we are in effect saying that we don't want the rules deciding games. You can probably see where this is headed. US citizens and residents live under a presidential administration that routinely demonstrates its contempt for rules. And we, in various ways, large and small, endorse and cultivate something like this contempt throughout the culture. A version of this contempt drives our fascination with fictional outlaws and gangsters, who often seem to provide, in their own way, an alternative to the corrupt, ignoble bureaucracies that seem to define politics and governance. Don't get me wrong. I am of course not saying that we should frown on gangster movies, or that professional sports leagues should be prevented from conducting their business as they see fit, or that either of these things, sports or movies, leads directly to the idea that the Geneva Conventions are 'quaint' and dispensable. What I am saying is that we need to understand what it means to have different sets of rules for different phases of an undertaking, and to position ourselves to ask whether having these different rulebooks is a problem. I find the 'toughness' premium in playoff basketball a profound turnoff. If enough people feel this way, the NBA will need to rethink its commitment to 'manly' playoff basketball, for fear of eroding its ability to deliver eyes to advertiser-hungry television networks. Similarly, and more importantly, anyone committed to a robust vision of democracy must find the contempt for political rules supremely off-putting, and dangerous. This is, after all, why we have a constitution, and why, W's approach notwithstanding, that document gives us a president and not a monarch. Sporting events are meant to give us a vision of fair play, a glimpse of a domain that is truly a meritocracy rather than a respecter of persons. Professional sports routinely fall short of this ideal, in all sorts of ways. It would be fit compensation for this failure if the NBA lost viewers because it too closely emulated the official rule breaking that has soured so many of us on politics.

July 05, 2007 - Posted by Paul C. Taylor in Politics

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