Two Party Systems and Party Discipline

by Brien Jackson

I think Evan Bayh’s “Senate Blue Dog” caucus is as laughable as the next guy, but I don’t really understand this complaint from Yglesias:

 The hilarious catch, however, is that when Bayh was asked to name the members of his new Obstruction Caucus he couldn’t name them all.

One bizarre feature of our political system is that, where other systems have coalitions, we instead have single parties. That’s not a fundamental weakness, per se, but it does lead to a rather odd dichotomy in which observers and commentators just sort of assume that everyone in the majority will agree with each other on various issues, and imagine that our “parties” should have the sort of discipline parties in other countries have. But if our system actually worked like, say, Israel’s system, the Democratic Party wouldn’t exist. Instead, you’d have a Labor Party, and Women’s Party, a Blue Dog party, a Populist Party, a left-wing party or two, etc. all competing for votes. And after the election, these parties would probably come together in a governing coalition. But no one would be shocked if the elements of that coalition had disagreements from time to time.

Instead, what we have is a situation where this coalition exists under the banner of one specific party, and disagreements and competing interests within the party are looked at as a bizarre thing. But I’m not so sure that’s an unusual thing, or something you shouldn’t expect to have happening at any given time, so much as it’s a misunderstanding of the unique way the party system in the United States works as a rule.