Matt Yglesias on policy vs. polarization
His thoughts are interesting
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.
Follow the $! Campaign finance reform requires you to raise large sums in small amounts; only ideological candidates can maximize their total intake under such a system. If you could raise $ anywhere from anyone, you wouldn't need to be as extreme to get that last $ (you could get more $ from the moderates).
Campaign finance reform also favors political dynasties & rich candidates (because they have a head start on fundraising).
Campaign finance reform was a disaster! It did the opposite of what it was supposed to do (it made people have even less confidence in politics because all they hear is stories about who gave what to whom w/ the obvious implication that everyone's bought).
Then, Big Tech got in the censorship game & MSM decided to be even more biased, but there wasn't enough $ to fight back, so ideology became the only game in town. (That is, conservatives had to appeal to conservative media & that made them more conservative, which - of course - made the opposition more liberal for the same reason & in the same way that any ban increases potency.)
At this point, our problems are almost all the result of our previous solutions. If we abolished government, we'd be shocked at how many "problems" just disappeared. Lack of affordable housing is the result of zoning, building codes etc. High costs of health insurance is largely the result of dumb government policies that drive up the cost of health insurance. I could go on, but government is really the classic (and only) example of how suppliers create their own demand. Every government mistake creates new problems that only government can solve!
It's all so gross and depressing.
If public opinion is on your side, being vocal and holding a public referendum is helpful. Yglesias is part of a group of influential political figures that champion policies that the public opposes. In that case, you need to hide the issue from the public, distract the public, and "just shut up and get it done".
Legalizing gay marriage was unpopular with voters, elite politicians conspired to overrule public opinion and get it done. I sincerely support gay marriage, so I am not upset with the outcome, but I dislike the tactics involved, and this scenario illustrates those tactics.
Local housing regulations is another one: most voters would vote against ending single family zoning. Yglesias would want to overrule the will of the public.
Immigration is a big one. Voters oppose large surges in immigration. Politicians know this. Yglesias knows this. They are pushing hard on this anyway. If voters voted on the issue, they would vote for immigration restriction. There is an enormous campaign to confuse and distract voters and stop immigration skeptics and restrictionists from spreading their message.
Obamacare was unpopular with the American masses when it was passed, architects of that admitted they were deliberately confusing + distracting the public. Now that it's passed, the public has lost interest in the issue and moved on.
A progressive elite pushed local policy to legalize homeless encampments in many cities. They knew it was unpopular with public opinion, so they did their best to keep it off the ballot and avoid a public referendum on the issue. Out of all the issues I mentioned, this one the progressive elite looks likely to lose. First, it's easily reversible. With immigration, you can't unimmigrate people, and it's nearly impossible to nullify gay marriage. But you can reinstate the camping ban and have the police evict homeless shanty towns. Next, the homeless cause lots problems with normal people in their day to day lives. Even committed Democrats are breaking with their party on this issue.