Jamelle Bouie on Gerald Seib:
Misdiagnosis: Gerald Seib’s diagnosis of the Senate — its problems are merely a symptom of our political system’s larger dysfunction — is mostly spot on, with the exception of this bit:
Yet the real issue here isn’t the number of filibusters and cloture votes needed to stop them, but that there is so little common ground between the parties that the tactic is so easily employed. After all, if there is a rough consensus on a matter, spanning the two parties in the center of the ideological spectrum, filibusters are a futile gesture. They are worth mounting only in a highly partisan, highly polarized environment. And that’s precisely the environment the nation—not just the Senate—has right now. This loss of common ground in the center is why filibusters matter.
I’m not sure that this is an accurate reading of the dynamic at hand. Even if senators were able to find broad consensus on legislation, it wouldn’t change the core facts of the situation: voters reward accomplishments and punish failures, with the latter directed at the majority regardless of circumstances. And since we know that the minority has the power to cause failure, the political incentive will always point towards greater obstruction, even if there is substantive agreement on a given issue. Common ground or not, there simply isn’t any reason to cooperate, especially when non-cooperation could yield substantial career benefits (like choice committee assignments and the like). And since chances are slim that public attitudes will massively shift towards some kind of split-the-difference moderation, the only real solution to the problem of gridlock in the Senate is institutional reform (i.e. filibuster repeal).
Seib seems not to be able to see what is right smack in front of his face: there is broad consensus. The stimulus program that Romer, Summers, Orszag, and company designed for Obama was very similar to the stimulus that Holtz-Eakin and Zandi would have designed for McCain. The health care plan pushed by Obama was--nay, was to the right of--the health care plan that Mitt Romney put in place in Massachusetts. Even outside of health care and macro policy there is substantial consensus on what good policy is: Bush economic staffers say that Obama's cap-and-trade proposals are not aggressive enough, and Republican legislators say in private that they would be worth supporting were it not (a)important to deny Obama any victories, and (b) for their need for support from the oil industry; Bush financial regulators say that Obama's financial reform proposals are too timid, and Republican legislators say in private that they would be worth supporting were it not (a) important to deny Obama any victories, and (b) for their need for support from the banking industry.
Yet, somehow, none of this makes it into Seib's "Capitol Journal" column: he, for some reason, doesn't think he can do more than hint at what he knows to be true...