Having taken on the responsibility of scoring fantasy intellectuals, I am obliged to follow Matt Yglesias on substack. He was selected in the May league by one of my readers, and I also picked him as a player in the Media Stars league. I find his observations interesting, but they are not generating points.
I think that his posts have the potential to kick off discussions (which is a point category), but so far they have not done so. Perhaps this is a drawback to being paywalled.
For example, on May 8 he wrote,
in my view, Democrats talking about any kind of progressive issue at all is likely to cause backlash on that issue, so the only reason to talk about anything at all is to try to win elections and pass policies. But I recognize that general point as a minority view, and I should try harder to persuade everyone of the general uselessness of getting politicians to talk about your priorities, because the race framings are, in some ways, a special case of that.
I think he is saying that when you favor a policy, you want the politicians on your side to just shut up and get it done. The more they talk about an issue in partisan terms, the more they rile up the other side. I get the sense that Matt is thinking along these lines when he talks about zoning regulation or family policy or the gulf between “faculty lounge” rhetoric and other voters. He sees opportunities for bipartisanship, but these get missed because politicians start posturing, and this triggers a cycle of polarization.
As I recall, Lyndon Johnson, in his master-of-the-Senate days, had contempt for “show horses” (he meant John Kennedy in particular) as opposed to workhorses. Today in politics, everyone is a show horse, and no one wants to be a workhorse. Yuval Levin makes this point eloquently in A Time to Build.
I believe that Jonathan Rauch would say that this is the outcome of seemingly well-intentioned reforms that made Congress more transparent and politicians more responsive to public sentiment. With those reforms, and given the contemporary media environment, Democratic voters want to hear their elected officials express scorn and contempt for Republicans, and Republican voters want their elected officials to express ugly sentiments toward Democrats. Deal-making, compromise, or just simple respect for the other side are turnoffs to the partisan voters that officials must cultivate in order to survive party primaries.
Matt notes that in general elections the moderate candidate often wins. But he observes that young Democratic staffers to whom the Biden Administration seems beholden are far to the left of the median voter. Noah Rothman sees a symmetric problem for Republican elected officials, in that the ardent Trump supporters to whom they are beholden do not reflect the unease about Mr. Trump that is felt by others.
We have reached an odd juncture at which each party seems hell bent on scaring away moderate voters rather than winning them over. Political scientists’ faith in the median voter theorem is wavering. And those of us who are not members of either the Woke tribe or the Trump tribe are feeling squeezed.