The Hammer

An awful lot of what you need to understand about American politics is embedded within an offhand remark Senator Jay Rockefeller made on Friday talking to Ezra Klein:

What about Olympia Snowe?

I think the world of Olympia Snowe. She’s got incredible courage, and the Republican leadership is brutal in the way they apply pressure. Much more so than the Democrats.

How so?

For example, when Clinton was elected president, and George Mitchell was majority leader, [Clinton] came to our Democratic Caucus, because he thought it would be nice to break bread with us. Mitchell told him he had to leave. They were part of different branches of government. And so Clinton and his Secret Service had to turn around and walk out. It was a historic moment. On the other side, there were very few caucuses that Dick Cheney didn’t attend himself. That’s why whether it’s intelligence or environment or elsewhere, they bring the hammer down in a way Democrats aren’t good at, which I’m sort of glad about.

On the issue of expanded access to high-quality affordable health insurance, Jay Rockefeller is a really solid progressive. And he recognizes that the differential level of party discipline is a major factor in how the debate is unfolding. But nevertheless, he says he’s glad that he’s a member of the party with weaker discipline. This is a recipe for endless progressive frustration. If the more progressive political party is deliberately organized so as to be less effective as a caucus than the more conservative political party, then it’ll always be very hard to enact progressive legislation. And if even the members who are fully aware of this dynamic and who don’t like its consequences nonetheless support maintaining the status quo because it maximizes their personal self-interest, then we’re a long way from changing things.