The Unbalanced Republic

You rarely get a single anecdote that tells you so much about how the American polity operates:

Lincoln was embraced by her colleagues on the Senate floor as a conquering general returning from war. Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), in charge of the Senate Democrats’ campaign effort, gave her a hug and a kiss and said, “Now we just have to raise money.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) held up two fists and said of her primary campaign: “Fighting Wall Street with one hand, unions with the other.”

Lincoln received bipartisan hugs, kisses, handshakes and even a fist bump. Sen. Claire McCaskill applauded and let out a “woo-hoo.”

The ideal of governing in a manner that’s equidistant from rival interest groups (which even as “clarified” is clearly what Schumer is saying) is basically worthy. But in the American context, there’s a dangerous lack of balance. Schumer, who’s become something of a national leader among Senate Democrats, celebrates this ideal, but there’s not a single member of the Republican Party — much less a leader — who’d say anything remotely similar. Schumer is basically describing polyarchy or interest-group pluralism. But the imbalance between Schumer and his rivals on the other side of the aisle reflects what Charles Lindblom ended up criticizing as the “privileged position of business in polyarchy.”