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The myth of the myth of bipartisanship

- February 18, 2009

A vigorous journalistic and academic debate has arisen about partisanship, just in time for the recent votes in Congress passing Barack Obama’s economic plan with near-unanimous support among Democrats and the nearly complete opposition of Republicans.

On one side is the view, widely held among Americans when surveyed, that politics in Washington, D.C., are too partisan and that they should try to find the center and work together. In the current political climate, this attitude can take a Democratic spin–why can’t the Republicans go along with Obama’s bipartisan initiatives?–or, on the Republican side, can be associated with the view that Obama and congressional Democrats are inappropriately using their partisan advantage to squeeze out everything they can. Beyond this, political activists such as Brink Lindsey who are associated with neither party focus on the systematic errors held by partisans on both sides.

On the other side, political scientists often have a more positive view of partisanship and the spoils system, both as a set of incentives to enhance political accountability and as a way of giving voters clear alternatives and substantive representation (for example, see political theorist Nancy Rosenbaum’s remarks).

My thoughts on this particular debate are here. But, as a statistician, what really bugs me is when people get the facts wrong, as discussed here.