Negative-sum Politics

“For the GOP, politics is not a zero-sum game — and I don’t mean this in a good way. It is entirely possible for Obama to lose on a variety of issues and for Republicans to lose as well, in ways that make future victories less likely.”

Michael Gerson (Washington Post) decries those in the GOP who are “convinced that the only duty of an opposition party is to oppose” rather than to offer a compelling alternative.  Greg Sargent agrees (the Plum Line), referring to the GOP’s “post-policy nihilism.” Both are worth reading.

The case being made by Gerson and Sargent may be a bit overstated. However, it seems like the GOP was the party of ideas for much of the last few decades, likely the product of heavy investments in think tanks and the vigorous interplay of competing factions of the conservative coalition. While the Democrats sought to preserve the status quo and maintain a disintegrating New Deal coalition, conservatives and libertarians were often deeply engaged in a serious examination of core public policies and the generation of alternatives. Much of this, in turn, influenced policy decisions. Whether one is speaking of economic management, education, tax policy, regulatory design, or welfare reform, the story of post-1970s domestic policy simply cannot be told without referencing these debates.

To say that the GOP was the party of ideas is not to say that all the ideas were good ideas (are they ever?). To claim that the GOP is no longer the party of ideas is not to suggest that the Democrats have somehow assumed this role.  Indeed, it may be the case that no party can make this claim. If this is the case, we may have competition between two parties of “no” in an era when ideas are critically needed.


One thought on “Negative-sum Politics

  1. I’d like to see how often when opposing a particular Democrat policy proposal the Republicans offer an alternative. My sense is that they do so fairly often, even if done cynically and politically with no expectation of their proposal being considered and passing. I would also argue that opposing a particular bit of legislation and policy, without offering an alternative, is in practical terms rejecting the notion that the particular issue under consideration requires a government solution; an idea, of sorts.

    Clearly I am in the less is more camp when it comes to government action and so perhaps place greater value on the idea of opposition from political parties.

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