Two inter–linked 501c4 corporations that refuse to disclose their donors are hip-deep in plans to throw their money behind as-yet unnamed candidates in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. To justify their existence, Americans Elect and No Labels make the same claim: that American politics is wracked by hyperpartisanship. There’s just one problem with that pitch: it’s wrong. A look at caucuses, the seedbed of legislation in America, reveals an overwhelming tendency toward bipartisan cooperation.
Claims of Hyperpartisanship in Congress
Visit Americans Elect’s homepage and the little information you’ll get is in the form of quotes by the classic American cross-section of four white men and a white woman. David Brooks (also a favorite of No Labels) is quoted as saying that:
The centrist movement is completely unrepresented by the two parties, and yet it’s where the largest percentage of Americans are.
This is a snippet from Brooks’ remarks in a debate about Congressional politics entitled in all caps, “THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM IS MAKING AMERICA UNGOVERNABLE” (Brooks takes the affirmative position). Fellow columnist Thomas Friedman chimes in:
When your political system punishes lawmakers for the doing the right things, it is broken.
That’s a bit from a Friedman column in which he lambastes the Congress, declaring that “hyperpartisanship has frustrated those hopes” he had for cooperative, bipartisan policymaking.
Americans Elect completes its collection of quotes with a complaint by “Judy L. of Denver,” who says of Them, “They don’t debate anymore. They shout and don’t listen to the other side.” Below all the quotes Americans Elect staffers write the accompanying text, “America faces large challenges, but the two political parties in Washington are not working together to find solutions.”
In the meantime, over at No Labels, the organization writes of “the great divide,” “The Unnecessary Nature of Hyper-partisanship Between Democrats and Republicans” in Congress. No Labels waxes nostalgic over a friendship Joe Scarborough formed with Maxine Waters during his “experience in the Senate” — he actually was a Representative in the House. No Labels quickly moves on to make a series of four demands for a more bipartisan Congress, including a ban on bills that aren’t supported by both parties and “Bipartisan caucuses.”
“Bipartisan caucuses?” What an interesting idea.
Of course, we already have caucuses in the Congress. In the House, where their existence is publicly disclosed, we currently have 258 of them, covering all sorts of subjects from African Great Lakes to the Arts, from Bosnia to Bourbon. How partisan are these caucuses? We can tell by looking at the names of the people who lead each caucus as co-chairs. If a caucus is led by a combination of Democratic and Republican co-chairs, it’s bipartisan. If it’s led by only Democrats or only Republicans, that’s partisan. To complicate matters only a little bit, there are a small number of caucuses that are led by just one member of Congress; when there’s just one caucus leader you just can’t say whether there’s partisanship or bipartisanship in leadership.
Here’s the breakdown of partisanship vs. bipartisanship among those 258 congressional caucuses:
Surprise! 200 out of the 258 congressional caucuses are led by both Republicans and Democrats in bipartisan fashion. 32 are led by just one person, which might make the caucus leadership partisan, but only in the trivially true sense that one person can’t belong to more than one party. Only 26 out of 258 caucuses in the House — a mere 10% of caucuses — are led by co-chairs who come from only one party.
Move past the dire declarations of Americans Elect, No Labels and their stable of pundits, and you’ll find that in reality, bipartisanship caucus leadership is the overwhelming norm in Congress. If these 501c4 organizations are truly interested in encouraging bipartisanship, they should share this great news with their readers: I mean, heck, “bipartisan caucuses” are exactly what No Labels has demanded. Only an organization seeking to use claims of “hyperpartisanship” as a tactical campaign wedge would keep this news mum.