There's No Such Thing as Non-Political Politics

Is Bob Kerry running to replace Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, or is he vying for emperor of the Beltway? Judging from his affection for non-political politics, my money is on the latter:

“I think there are 60 votes in the Senate to solve the budget challenge and to secure Medicare and Social Security,” Kerrey said Saturday.

“The Democratic and Republican caucuses are the problem.”

Those organized party caucuses stand in the way of bipartisan cooperation on difficult problems that continue to grow larger and become more urgent as the Congress remains paralyzed by partisan gridlock, Kerrey said.

This doesn’t make any sense. In the hypothetical Congress where there are no party caucuses, it’s still the case that members will disagree about the country’s problems, and how to fix them. And indeed, it’s likely that these members will try to form groups in order to better achieve their goals. Moreover, members who oppose those goals would still have institutional tools—like the filibuster—that would allow them to block the priorities of opposing members. The net effect of taking party caucuses away from Congress would range from nothing at all, to an even more dysfunctional system, where accountability is difficult, and factions of senators jockey to corral majorities and pass laws with little guidance and almost no discipline.

Of course, absurd ideas like Kerrey’s are the inevitable result of a diagnosis that blames congressional problems on partisanship and polarization, rather than institutional abuses—the routine filibuster, hyper-politicized confirmation process—and procedural radicalism (i.e. the GOP’s attack on congressional norms).