Friday, January 4, 2008

Polarization and Interest Group Politics

I was struck by this quote from Tyler Cowen this morning:

Polarizing America won't make interest group politics go away, no matter how hard either the right-wingers or progressives wish it so. It may even make interest group politics worse, and in the meantime the polarizer is simply demonstrating a lack of meta-rationality on the part of the polarizer.

I couldn't agree more. I just wish he was more unequivocal than saying that polarization "may" make interest group politics worse. I don't think there should be a "may" about it.

The trouble with polarization is that it leads myriad interest groups to hitch all their hopes to one political party or the other, resulting in the interest groups conforming their secondary and tertiary interests with the polarizer's. When this takes place within the context of a political party, it creates the equivalent of one mega-interest group; people are defined as either a hundred percent part of the team or as actively working to undermine it. The result is that the party simply represents the top priority issues of each of its constituent interest groups. Since the constituent interest groups each have their own top priorities, the end result is a kind of "pu-pu platter" partisanship that is more concerned with keeping constituent interests happy on their top-line issues than it is with anything resembling principle.

Effectively, this means that polarization undermines the constitutional safeguards meant to mitigate faction by reducing all or most of politics to two mega-factions. The corrupting influence of subsidiary factions becomes tremendous because those subsidiary factions effectively have a monopoly on the party's political positions within their interest area. Thus, polarization worsens interest group politics.