Partisan Hypocrisy, Partisan Immunity, and the Necessity of Divided Government

Like the Democrats and Republicans themselves, partisan hypocrisy and partisan immunity are two sides of the same worthless coin.  The concept of partisan hypocrisy is well known: Democrats and Republicans are each quick to excuse themselves for acts which they denounce when committed by the other side.  The notion of partisan immunity is closely related: when confronted with even justified  criticism from the other side of the duopoly divide, Democrats and Republicans claim the critique has no merit because it is leveled by a partisan hypocrite.  At The Think 3 Institute, Sam Wilson has been developing the two ideas together for some time.  From October 2009:
"Partisan immunity" is my term for the practice within the American two-party system of politicians evading or attempting to avoid accountability for questionable conduct by claiming that any demand for accountability is politically motivated for partisan advantage.
From September 2009:
Partisan hypocrisy is a key component of the more pernicious concept of partisan immunity. Partisan immunity is claimed by those who claim that their actions are being prosecuted for political or partisan reasons alone. An inevitable element of that argument is the claim, implicit or not, that the partisan prosecutors are hypocrites who would have done the same things had they been in power. Once these claims are made, the objective injustice of the act in question becomes irrelevant.  
Last week, while speaking about Republican opposition to the Obama administration's illegal war in Libya, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted outright that partisan hypocrisy is in fact an integral facet of Republican-Democrat party politics.  Althouse has McConnell's quote in full:
McConnell: I’m not sure that these kind of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president. But I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side. So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to mute them. So yeah, I think there are clearly differences and I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to express their reservations which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration.
At Divided We Stand, the Dividist puts McConnell's statement in its proper duopolist context:
[McConnell's] comment is being trumpeted on the left as prima facie evidence of the venal, party-first, hypocritical nature of many congressional Republicans. This is, of course, completely true, as that is indeed their nature. The irony is that the Democrats making that point fail to note that many congressional Democrats are behaving exactly as McConnell notes on exactly the same issue.
So, when a Republican president commits high crimes and misdemeanors, party loyalty prevents Republicans from holding that president accountable; and when a Democratic president commits high crimes and misdemeanors, party loyalty prevents Democrats from holding that president accountable.  Is it any wonder that presidents are so rarely held accountable for their crimes?  The Dividist concludes, appropriately, with a call for divided government: 
The need for a check on the President and to ensure that our constitutional checks and balances function as intended justifies a divided government voting heuristic - always voting to maintain a divided government state at the federal level. Always.
Unfortunately, however, government divided between the Democrats and Republicans does not ensure constitutional checks and balances.  On the contrary, government divided between the Democrats and Republicans is the primary means by which the ruling political class systematically avoids political accountability.  Indeed, it provides them with an ideological shield behind which they wage  their outright war on constitutional, democratic-republican government.  Divided government between Democrats and Republicans means never having to take responsibility, for they will always claim partisan hypocrisy and partisan immunity.

As in the past, I will see the Dividist's call for divided government and raise him one.  Government divided between Democrats and Republicans is not divided government at all: the ruling parties work in concert to subvert our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  If Democrats and Republicans refuse to hold a president accountable for his crimes when he is a member of their own party, then the only way to ensure full accountability in the executive branch is to elect a third party or Independent president.


TiradeFaction said...

I'll refer back to the previous article I sent you by Jon Walker of FDL. Simply put a two party system is designed in such a way to proliferate this behavior and the confusion of voters between what they actually stand for. As for true bi partisanship being impossible in a two party system, so is true accountability. They can always just claim it's the "other party" (and thus being "the other side") making shit up for political games. Now, if we had more parties elected to our legislatures, this may change the dynamic, especially if said third party were hostile to the Democrats in this instance, or were in fact a right leaning party (Constitution, Libertarian, etc.).

I do however have to disagree with you that the only way to ensure full accountability in the executive branch is by means of electing a third party or independent. Aside from the fact that at this moment, it's logistically and organizationally near impossible to win the presidency for such groups at the moment, it's impractical anyway. Jesse Ventura proved this when he took the Governors seat of Minnesota back in 2000. Even if you can beat the odds and win the highest executive branch in the land, without enough of a base in the legislature, it'll quickly sour. Both major parties will team up to oppose everything you do. Sure, they could become a "veto" president/governor, come re election after your 4th year, they'll easily be able to turn their non compliance into a perceived weakness of your administration rather than the duopolistic refusal to work with you for the sole fact you're not one of them. It's possible in a state like Oregon or California such a third party or independent Governor could circumvent this by going directly to the people and asking them to put on the ballot all his policies and pass them. But that's available only in a few states, and most I & R states don't have the liberal laws in regards to citizens initiatives and referendums, rather than just legislature backed initiatives and referendums. And this also assumes they pass....

I think the real answer is building blocks of elected third party and independent legislatures, rather than executive positions, in the beginning at least. Build up from there...

d.eris said...

I agree with your strategy assessment here, TF, (I was half joking in my conclusion), but it stands to reason that if Democrats and Republicans will only challenge a president who is not in their party, then the only way to get Democrats and Republicans to stand up to the president, and potentially neuter the imperial presidency, is to elect a third party or independent president.

But I'd much rather see a multi-partisan legislature that is representative of the people of the United States rather than of the ruling parties and political class.

TiradeFaction said...

True! If only we could find an electable pro war neocon(lib) style candidate, maybe then the Dems and Repubs would actually start to change course and criticize the very policies they support. Hell, the Repubs did it with the health care bill that they supported for decades and even passed in Massachusetts, as for real policy matters not to our established exclusive duopoly.

Samuel Wilson said...

McConnell's quote is golden. And your point on presently-existing "divided government" is well made. The perpetual hypocrisy of partisan immunity actually seems to insure that the same things will be done in office no matter which big party rules, even if for no better reason than tit-for-tat. If the parties do govern differently in some respects, the differences only illustrate which constituencies in this country have power and which ones don't.

DLW said...

I believe there's been work that shows how we are more likely to scrutinize the statements of the other side's leader/candidate than our own side's leader/candidate so this tendency is in part welded into our brains.

A two-party dominated system would work better if there were more competitive elections or uncertainty about which issues/groups are likely to matter in future elections. As it is, most dissenters don't typically dissent that much from the positions of the major parties. Those of us who are more radical in our dissent would best be served by acts of self-sacrificial courage that move the de facto political center. We wouldn't per se be more able to do such if we had our own 6th/7th/8th party representatives.