Everyone complains about how the Democrats and Republicans disagree and can never come together productively. Everyone hopes that eventually the two parties will agree on major issues.
However, the reason for the bipartisanship of yesteryear was that we had non-ideological, non-cohesive parties — something we clearly do not have today. There was once much more overlap on the ideological scale in voting records, but overlap has become close to nonexistent. And, based on what I am seeing, trends show even more polarization over the next decade, if that even seems possible.
Here’s why: The moderates of both parties are leaving and being replaced by more extreme members. The Blue Dog caucus — the group of centrist and conservative House Democrats — was almost wiped out in 2010 because they represented more Republican districts and hence were easy targets. The number of Blue Dogs is way down, and since their party’s liberal base has less and less tolerance for them, their faction is unlikely to grow. Furthermore, a few of them are retiring and likely to be replaced by Republicans, shrinking the caucus even further. Eventually, the remaining ones will retire, and most of their districts are certainly not trending Democratic. In fact, most of the Blue Dogs are entrenched incumbents from the time their districts actually voted Democratic, but now their districts have trended Republican right under their feet. Plus, many states run by Republicans are redistricting Blue Dogs into more hostile territories.
Another major trend is the further demise of the southern white Democrat. The days of the Democratic “Solid South” are long gone. If anything, there is now a Republican “Solid South.” Although there are a few Blue Dogs in the Outer South, and a couple of liberal white Democrats in a few regions — like the northern Virginia suburbs, the Raleigh-Durham area, Nashville and Louisville — there is now only one white Democrat in the Deep South (and his seat was made much more Republican through redistricting, so he will likely be gone by next year). But this makes sense: only about 15 to 20 percent of Deep South white voters regularly vote Democratic. It wouldn’t really make sense if there were any white Democratic representatives.
This means that when Democrats take back the House, whether in 2012, 2014, 2016 or whenever (it will obviously happen one day), the majority will be based even more so on minority and white liberal areas and less on conservative areas. Also, the least conservative Republican congressmen represent midwestern and western suburbs that are swing votes and trend towards Democratic. This means that when the Democrats have the winds at their backs, these least conservative congressmen will be the first to lose to liberal Democrats, leaving the congressmen to continue drifting apart.
Or let’s take the 2012 Senate elections: for the Democrats, we have Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin running for Sen. Herb Kohl’s seat, Chris Murphy of Connecticut running for Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat, Tim Kaine of Virginia running for Sen. Jim Webb’s seat, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts running for Sen. Scott Brown’s seat. Except for incumbent Republican Brown, all of the others are retiring Democrats. If all four of them win, they are likely to be much more liberal than their predecessors, especially Warren, since it would be a Democratic pickup.
Adding onto that, of the most conservative Democratic senators this cycle, Sen. Kent Conrad is retiring and Sen. Ben Nelson is likely to lose. Both are likely to be replaced by very conservative Republicans, since those states are two of the most reliably Republican states in the country.
Basically, despite all we complain about partisanship and rigid positions, all signs show it getting worse, not better. The middle in Congress is basically gone, with no signs of coming back. Now the question is how far from each other the parties will diverge.
Dawidowicz is a member of the class of 2012.