Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Moral Legitimacy " and Majorities

Jonathan Chait is puzzled:
I understand the practical difficulties associated with a Labor-Lib Dem coalition (among other things, it would rely on the votes of smaller parties). What I don't get this is objection that such a coalition would "have no moral legitimacy."
Here's the objection, from Nile Gardiner of Heritage over at NRO:
It would have no moral legitimacy. Labour lost heavily in this election, and the Liberals were humiliated. The Conservatives won the largest number of seats and votes by a large margin, yet will be kept out of power. The public and much of the media will be overwhelmingly opposed to such a government.
J. Chait:  Isn't this fairly obvious?  I assume that the answer is more or less along the same logic as that of the Democrats ignoring the will of the voters by not doing exactly what Republicans wanted after the Scott Brown election.

More seriously...Chait is of course correct.  There is no "correct" democratic answer to the quandry: Labour surely lost the election, the Lib-Dems surely didn't win it, and yet combined they surely do have more seats (and received far more votes) than the Conservative Party by itself. 

To me, this is an excellent argument for a system that forces compromise before the election (that is, by building two large, coalition-type parties) and after the government is formed (by using a system of separated institutions sharing powers), instead of a multiparty system that forces compromise after the election and a parliamentary system that readily enacts whatever the resulting government wants.  But whether you agree with me or not about that, what it does help to make clear is that any majorities in large nations are constructed, not natural, just as James Madison realized -- which means, in my opinion, being careful about how much authority one gives to those majorities.


  1. Labour surely lost the election, the Lib-Dems surely didn't win it, and yet combined they surely do have more seats (and received far more votes) than the Conservative Party by itself.

    Well, duh. The NRO is either pretending to be clueless or is so drunk on the GOP Kool Aid that they really ARE that dumb.

    More to the point: the problem we have right now is that we simply don't build via compromise those two large, coalition-type parties before the election. We don't. When was the last time we did that? It's been at least 15 years.

    What we have is a Republican Party that caters to the fringe of its base, forcing out moderates into that vasty, squishy middle "independent" ground. And we have a Democratic Party that completely ignores its base, in an effort to woo that vast squishy middle of "independent" voters. That forces the Democrats to be more conservative, and the Republican base, in an attempt to distinguish itself from its political rival, is ever more radicalized.

    The liberal base is ignored; when the Democrats get in power, true liberal initiatives are chucked overboard at the screaming of the ever more radicalized Republican base.

    This is modern American politics. If you are a liberal, which I am, it sucks. We are ignored. There is no attempt to force a compromise with us, no coalition building. Everything we thought we were going to get has been chucked. Our healthcare initiatives, our environmental initiatives, our work force initiatives are ignored. We work to elect Democrats and then we're told, sorry, better luck next time.

    It's the truth. And there will be repercussions for this, one of these days. Perhaps sooner than the Democratic Party would like.

  2. Southern Beale,

    I understand that it seems that way from one point of view, but from a larger perspective I don't think so at all. On social issues, for example -- and that's a huge big deal to much of the conservative base -- liberals have largely won over the last thirty years. On size of government...I'd call it stalemate over the last thirty years. Essentially, liberals have won outright on the responsibilities of government, but conservatives often prevent giving government the means to live up to those responsibilities.

    Meanwhile, it's just wrong to say that Democrats ignore their liberal base. Health care, as you may recall, passed -- no, it's not the single payer that only small minorities favor, and no, public option didn't pass (yet), but it's a huge shift in government responsibility, which is a very big liberal gain.

    Basically, conservative base voters believe exactly the same thing: that they are constantly sold out by traitorously moderate conservatives. The truth is that the system tends to push compromises and bargaining, so purists feel sold out. On both sides.

  3. Social issues are cultural, not political. Culturally the nation may have won, but from a policy perspective, we see every day how our politicians run from the liberal base. Don't confuse politicians and policy with American culture or even our courts.

    Healthcare was not a win for liberals. A government mandate forcing private citizens to purchase a product from a private, for-profit, monopolized industry is not now and never has been part of the liberal agenda. No, no, no.

    Where was the compromise on the healthcare bill? The bill that passed was basically what Bob Dole suggested years ago. Last I checked he's a Republican.

    Healthcare was a win for President Obama and the insurance industry but it was a huge loss for liberals, a perfect example of how the Democrats ran from their base. What big win did liberals get? That insurance co's can't deny you care because of a pre-existing condition? That was our big victory? Hell, Congress could have passed a law saying as much and we'd have saved ourselves months of angst.

    On the culture war front, we have a rash of state laws chinking away at abortion rights, gun restrictions, not to mention this nonsense happening in Arizona--a virus that appears to be spreading. Some of these abortion laws (like the one in OK), are just downright cruel and anti-woman.

    Gay rights? We have a handful of state courts ruling that marriage equality needs some kind of legal codification, because from a legal perspective you can't treat gays differently from everyone else. Policy-wise it seems gay marriage is the kiss of death for a Democratic politician. Even repealing DADT is "controversial."

    And while the size of government may be a nice talking point for the Tea Party set, I don't for a moment think Republicans OR Democrats give a hoot about it. For crying out loud, they NEED the government to be big or they'd put themselves out of business.

    I'm not a purist by any stretch, but when I read speeches by Eisenhower and Nixon and have to remind myself they were Republicans, I can't help but think how much this country has changed.

    Maybe what you're saying is that we liberals should just be happy our issues get a passing mention on the Sunday morning bobblehead shows. Sorry, but that's not consensus building to me.

    No, I'm not a radical, I'm no Jane Hamsher but as a liberal voter I do not see anyone making any effort to reach out to me, except for money.

  4. I wonder whether Nile Gardiner was worrying about moral legitimacy in November 2000 after George Bush clearly and defintively lost the popular vote but nonetheless "won" the election, took office and began one of the most disastrous administrations in American history.


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