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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, May 5, 2017
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on May 2, 2017

The bit­ter par­tis­an­ship that has en­vel­oped Cap­it­ol Hill, the White House, Wash­ing­ton, and the coun­try is deeply troub­ling, and it’s get­ting worse. Today, col­legi­al­ity and co­oper­a­tion between the parties is more the ex­cep­tion than the rule. An ex­ample of the ex­cep­tion was the un­veil­ing last week of the por­trait of former House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Fred Up­ton of Michigan, who stepped down from that po­s­i­tion at the end of the last Con­gress when the GOP rule on term lim­its for chair­man­ships kicked in. Up­ton was honored not only by party col­leagues like Speak­er Paul Ry­an and Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy, but also by Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er from the Demo­crat­ic side.

This event was held in the John Din­gell Room of the Ray­burn House Of­fice Build­ing, named for the Demo­crat­ic li­on of the House (a mem­ber for over 59 years), John Din­gell, a fel­low Michig­ander. Up­ton chaired hun­dreds of hours in that hear­ing room, Din­gell thou­sands. Among Up­ton’s many con­tri­bu­tions to pub­lic policy was his re­lent­less push with Demo­crat­ic Rep. Di­ana De­Gette and Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der to pass in the last Con­gress the 21st Cen­tury Cures Act, to provide nearly $5 bil­lion in new fund­ing for the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health.

But par­tis­an­ship has be­come the rule, and it is not only a prob­lem in Wash­ing­ton. As a coun­try, we are be­com­ing more par­tis­an, with our last elec­tion the most par­lia­ment­ary in our his­tory. Every single Sen­ate race was won by the same party as the pres­id­en­tial race in that state, and 400 out of 435 House dis­tricts voted the same way for House and pres­id­ent. We are not only be­com­ing more par­tis­an, we are self-sort­ing, both in terms of geo­graphy and so­cial group­ings. The pi­on­eer­ing Demo­crat­ic cam­paign con­sult­ant Matt Reese con­stantly cited the old ad­age, “Birds of a feath­er flock to­geth­er.” In a ground­break­ing book pub­lished in 2008, The Big Sort: Why the Clus­ter­ing of Like-Minded Amer­ica Is Tear­ing Us Apart, an Aus­tin, Texas journ­al­ist named Bill Bish­op wrote about how Amer­ic­ans are in­creas­ingly grav­it­at­ing to­ward like-minded people and how that’s af­fect­ing us.

A sur­vey last year by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found that 77 per­cent of both Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats have spouses of the same party. Ninety-one per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans had an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion of the Demo­crat­ic Party, up 17 points from 1994; and 86 per­cent of Demo­crats had an un­fa­vor­able view of the Re­pub­lic­an Party, up 22 points from 1994. Among self-de­scribed Re­pub­lic­ans, 52 per­cent said Demo­crats were more “close-minded” than oth­er Amer­ic­ans, 47 per­cent said Demo­crats were more “im­mor­al,” 46 per­cent said they were more “lazy,” 45 per­cent said they more “dis­hon­est,” and 32 per­cent said they were more “un­in­tel­li­gent.” Among Demo­crats, a whop­ping 70 per­cent said Re­pub­lic­ans were more close-minded, 42 per­cent said they were more dis­hon­est, 35 per­cent said they were more un­in­tel­li­gent, and 18 per­cent said they were more lazy.

Most Demo­crats and most Re­pub­lic­ans see is­sues and polit­ics in very dif­fer­ent ways. In the new April 17-20 NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll, when presen­ted with the choice of two points of view, 80 per­cent of self-de­scribed Demo­crats thought “gov­ern­ment should do more to solve prob­lems and help meet the needs of people,” while just 16 per­cent of Demo­crats thought that “gov­ern­ment is do­ing too many things bet­ter left to busi­nesses and in­di­vidu­als.” Among self-de­scribed Re­pub­lic­ans, 69 per­cent thought gov­ern­ment was do­ing too much, and just 28 per­cent thought it should do more. Among all adults, 57 per­cent thought gov­ern­ment should do more, up 7 points from the Ju­ly 2015 NBC/WSJ poll; and 39 per­cent agreed the gov­ern­ment is do­ing too much, down 7 points from Ju­ly 2015. The sur­vey was con­duc­ted by Fred Yang of the Demo­crat­ic polling firm of Hart Re­search and Bill McIn­turff of GOP firm Pub­lic Opin­ion Strategies.

One of the smartest state le­gis­lat­ors around, Vir­gin­ia state Sen. Dave Marsden, has a the­ory centered on the Pledge of Al­le­gi­ance: “I pledge al­le­gi­ance to the flag of the United States of Amer­ica, and to the Re­pub­lic, for which it stands, one Na­tion, un­der God, in­di­vis­ible, with liberty and justice, for all.” Marsden, who rep­res­ents part of Fair­fax County in North­ern Vir­gin­ia, ar­gues that while most Amer­ic­ans agree with both liberty and justice, Re­pub­lic­ans tend to put the em­phas­is on liberty, Demo­crats on justice. Push­ing Marsden’s point a little fur­ther than he might want, one could ar­gue that Demo­crats don’t trust Re­pub­lic­ans not to in­fringe on justice, while Re­pub­lic­ans don’t trust Demo­crats not to con­strain liberty.

Ba­sic­ally, Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans tend not only to have a very dif­fer­ent view of the role of gov­ern­ment, but also a dif­fer­ent value struc­ture: Demo­crats are ob­sessed with justice, and Re­pub­lic­ans are equally ob­sessed with liberty.

Politi­cians and cit­izens would do well to try to un­der­stand the views and val­ues of people who don’t share their party af­fil­i­ation. Each side would find the oth­er less threat­en­ing, and the hy­per-par­tis­an­ship grip­ping the coun­try would ease, help­ing the gov­ern­ment func­tion more ef­fect­ively and let­ting people from op­pos­ite sides of town be friends again.