Ezra Klein Is Right

Ezra Klein is becoming one of my favorite pundits, thanks to columns in the New York Times like this one from late April, in which (in an aside) he pointed out that America “does have a multiparty political system, it’s just tucked inside the Senate Democratic caucus.”

The column–written before reports of the hardening of Senator Manchin’s stubborn refusal to consider any measure, no matter how good for the country, unless it is sufficiently “bipartisan”–considered the prospects of such bipartisanship in today’s degraded political environment.

As he notes,

The yearning for bipartisanship shapes the Senate in profound ways. For instance, it helps the filibuster survive. The filibuster is believed — wrongly, in my view — to promote bipartisanship, and so it maintains a symbolic appeal for those who wish for a more bipartisan Senate. “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” Senator Joe Manchin wrote in The Washington Post. “The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship.”

In the absence of the filibuster, the Senate might pass more legislation, but it would do so in a more partisan way, and some, like Manchin, would see that as a failure no matter the content of the bills. “We’d all prefer bipartisanship, but for some of my colleagues, it’s a very high value,” Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, told me.

Klein offers a contrary view: he argues that bipartisan governance isn’t innately better than partisan governance. In fact, he asserts, it’s often worse.

Although it is true that neither party has all the answers, bipartisan support does not usually generate legislation that features–or even includes– the best ideas of Republicans and the best ideas of Democrats.  Klein points out the obvious barriers to such a happy result.

A bipartisan bill is simply a bill that members of both parties support. That means they can support it ideologically and they can support it politically. It’s that latter condition that’s toughest to fulfill: The minority party doesn’t want to give the majority big, bipartisan accomplishments, because the minority party wants the majority to lose the next election….

The set of ideas that both parties can agree on is far smaller and blander than the range of ideas that one party or the other likes. To insist on bipartisanship as a condition of passage is to believe that it’s better for Amercan politics to choose its solutions from the kids’ menu.

Klein reminds readers that virtually all Republican elected officials have signed a pledge to oppose any and all tax increases. A bipartisan approach would thus take taxes off the table.  But even when tax policies aren’t under consideration, bills with bipartisan support are generally bills that have seen their “edges” sanded off.

Compromise bills can be wise legislation, but they often result in policy too modest and mushy to solve problems. We would never want industries to release only products that all the major competitors can agree on…

Klein concedes that things haven’t always been this polarized, and bipartisanship hasn’t always produced toothless legislation. But the current search for bipartisanship–at least, as conceived by Manchin and Sinema–is really summarized by a couple of memes circulating on Facebook. One has Lincoln saying he’d like to emancipate the slaves, but only after getting buy-in from the slaveholders; the other shows an 18th-Century man considering American independence, but only if the English agree.

Mitch McConnell has made it abundantly clear that the only “bipartisanship” Republicans will recognize is surrender by the Democrats to their demands.

Manchin and his ilk misunderstand a basic premise of American politics. As Klein explains,

This is what Manchin gets wrong: A world of partisan governance is a world in which Republicans and Democrats both get to pass their best ideas into law, and the public judges them on the results. That is far better than what we have now, where neither party can routinely pass its best ideas into law, and the public is left frustrated that so much political tumult changes so little.

It will surprise no one to hear that I think Democrats should get rid of the filibuster. But it’s not because I believe Democrats necessarily have the right answers for what ails America. It’s because I believe the right answers are likelier to be found if one party, and then the other, can try its hand at solving America’s problems. Partisan governance gives both parties true input over how America is governed; they just have to win elections. Bipartisan governance, at least with parties this polarized, does the opposite: It deprives both sides of the ability to govern and elections of their consequences.



  1. What Manchin and his “ilk” fail to understand or accept is that the filibuster can only be a useful legislative tool if legislators from both (all, including independents) share a reasonably common plane of reality and shared values. But they didn’t in 1856; they didn’t in 1963; and they don’t now.

    The only way to get rid of it is to keep 50 seats and win 2 or 3 more in ‘22, historically a VERY heavy lift in a mid-term election. But that’s why I’ve already sent a contribution to the campaign of Val Demings to unseat Marco Rubio and you should too.

  2. The endless Congressional debate about bipartisanship vs. majority rule reveals yet another divide in the government, but not the one discussed here.
    While our elected officials waste weeks, months and even years debating what is important to them, the people get screwed out of the government they thought they were entitled to. I for one don’t care if the vote is bipartisan or not…I just want the legislation and reforms promised during the campaigning that put these so called leaders into office.

  3. These debates about ‘bipartisanship’ are wasted energy, and so is the filibuster.

    Manchin found a sugar daddy named Charles Koch so his position is bribed from a wealthy oligarchy. He held out because it helped him fundraise for his campaign.

    Ezra is nothing more than a political doctor who diagnoses symptoms but never looks at the causes which create the symptoms. After assessing your symptoms, they write you a script to alleviate them.

    It’s like making policies against US police departments telling them not to kill people or be overly aggressive, or even voting in elections when billionaires own the political parties.

    If both parties are owned by the oligarchy (which they are), what is so important about bipartisanship? Those who want to see more of it are really asking what? Aren’t they just wanting better actors or politicians who are capable of understanding their role?

    Politician = Hypocrite by nature.

    They say one thing to get the votes of voters who honestly believe their party has the solution to what ails this country, and once elected, go back to fundraising from the billionaires and do their bidding.

    The outcome of all this smoke and mirror facade is that during a global pandemic where over 600,000 Americans lost their lives and countless more lost their livelihoods, the world’s richest people got incredibly richer. I’m sorry, but that is a societal economic system. It’s screaming we need deep systemic fixes because even under the worst outside influences, it’s producing poorly for the masses.

    The poor results are everywhere including the climate which is now reaching the tipping point of no return. Even when the evidence shows our poor decisions today are ending the livability of our planet for our offspring, we cannot stop making poor decisions. Why are we powerless?

  4. We used to say that politics is the art of the possible. I would agree except that the dumbing down of Americans has turned politics into a battle for the soul of the country, making nearly everything democratically impossible. Manchin must realize this by now.

    There has been several pundits who have suggested the the Dems start bringing things to the floor for a vote. Take the most popular parts of each bill and make smaller bills. Force a cloture vote on all of these items and don’t stop until you get 10 Republicans to vote aye. Then they have to use those votes as ads for 2022 and 2024.

  5. I have commented frequently on the multiparty system we currently have; the Green Party and Libertarians are legal, accepted political parties with limited campaign issues. In 2016 over 10 MILLION Americans voted for the two parties; we will never see statistics regarding how many actually voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or how many voted for either of them rather than vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Those 10 MILLION voters probably steered the Electoral College members to their appointment, not election, of Donald Trump to the presidency. A decision this nation will never totally recover from.

    I have lost count of the number of mass and single shootings over the past week but the fact remains that Manchin is a Democrat supporting Republicans who refuse to change the lax gun laws resulting in the killing of thousands of Americans yearly; many of them are children. PLEASE take this in the manner in which I am posting this statement; those armed terrorist will have to start shooting Republicans before they will consider addressing this issue. The fact that they were all targets of the insurrectionists and none of them were injured on January 6th is probably a sign to them that they are the “chosen ones”. The filibuster is their shield; they have no intention of turning it loose to protect democracy, Rule of Law or support the Constitution or American citizens.

  6. Manchin doesn’t care a whit about bipartisanship. Its a ruse. SB1 contains legislation that Dark Money fears. Just listen to Mitch McConnell who is best buds with Joe M. Joe M would not do very well if it were revealed how much dark money he’s acquired over the years, including before he became a Senator. Like most Republican and some Dem Senators, Joe M only cares about the $$, not the bipartisanship.

  7. Todd, yesterday in a podcast I heard Prof. Scott Galloway describe the US Senate as being “coin-operated”. LOL and smh.

  8. So, Todd, oligarchs rule and no one cares what the people want? Then why should Congressional candidates worry about raising campaign funds? Seems to me that a lot of Senators, at least, are exceedingly worried about what their constituents want, and that a great many democrats consider that loyalty to constituents a flaw. Weird.

  9. Of all the wonderful things Sheila has brought to our attention, this is the one with which I most agree.

  10. Todd:
    thanks, your view is spot-on. ill agree and to add, the overall vote in any chamber thats successful,and has a big bipartisian vote, usually concerns the corps,wealthy getting thier share.while the people look on,and have to accept it. filibuster or straight vote, the political theatres is listening to the paid media and sound bits from talking heads, to, the so called speach or running off of words of some hack without context. the way zoom and the like has taken off, now we should demand a public forum weekly with every occupier of the congress,not them spining for cash to complete thier midnight so-called deadlines for cash. sit em down,and the public askes the questions,and get answers from them,with out a beat around the bush scenerio,and remind them of that. the tech today allows for this,cheaply,and can be set up to accomodate the hack. if town halls now close to extiniction then we have some alternitive. i remember walking up to politicians and ask questions, face to face, covid may have scared off the town hall for good, now lets provide for the people, before we send another dime to wasted in a hole while corp/rich just hire a new jack, imagine how entertaining rip, m,greene would be? or rip,boebert, Colbert would have a hard time with his ratings after they get on air..

  11. The design flaw of our Constitution was the Electoral College, which has produced a Two-Party System of winner takes all at the presidential level. In sports whoever scores the most total points in game wins, in every other political election whoever wins the most total votes is the winner.

    The Senate has managed with their rules to have a filibuster. I cannot think of another legislative body that has a filibuster.

    Manchin has his own reasons for wanting to preserve the filibuster. His statement on bi-partisanship is pure 100% B.S.

  12. Let’s just cut to the chase. Manchin and Sinena both have one goal in mind and that is to get re-elected. West Virginia has become increasingly far right and the only way Manchin can keep his job is to stop the D party from accomplishing anything good for the country. He and Sinema are voting to keep Rs happy.

  13. Let’s be clear. Senate Bill 1 was never drafted to actually become law. It was done to placate a number of progressive interest groups, the legislative embodiment of all their wish lists. Manchin is hardly the only Democratic Senator who opposes it. He’s just taking the flak for those other Democratic Senators who are content on letting Manchin be the bad guy.

    The John Lewis Voting Act has much more support. That’s what the Democrats should be pushing.

    As far as the filibuster goes, do people not remember how bad Trump was at getting legislation passed by Congress, including 1/2017 to 1/2019 when Republicans controlled everything? Part of the reason why (besides extreme incompetence on Trump’s part) was the Democrats using the filibuster to stop legislation.

    Democratic activists always assume that if they gain power it will be forever. So whatever they do to get there doesn’t matter. History doesn’t back that up.

  14. Patrick – goodo – you are actually DOING SOMETHING!

    Regarding taking a vote – according to Schumer, the Senate will vote the week of 6/24 on the John Lewis bill. Don’t be surprised when it goes down and the GOP could care less if we are “taking names”.

  15. So, is Manchin just reading from the script provided by Charles Koch, and associates; trying to sound reasonable?
    “…the best ideas of the Republicans.” Excuse my confirmation bias, but I have not heard a simply “decent” idea come from a Republican, for ages.
    Please consider this:
    Fwd: Joe Manchin should read this op-ed. (So should you.)

    Joe Manchin got an important message from former Congressman Tom Perriello in a Washington Post op-ed invoking his West Virginia dad’s reminder about political courage and honor. You’ll be captivated from the first line.

    OP-ED: I took a vote that cost me my seat. I know what Joe Manchin is facing. By Tom Perriello

    “Just promise you will never forget that Judgment Day is more important than Election Day.” That was the advice — directive, really — my father offered when I asked about running for Congress. He was born and raised in Dunbar, W.Va., with the deep faith in the community, the Catholic Church and the New Deal that defined many Italian immigrant families recruited by the coal mines or Union Carbide. My dad died a few months after seeing me sworn in as a member of the 111th Congress in 2009, just three weeks after he retired as a pediatrician. He had cared for so many children of every race, faith and class that more than 1,000 people showed up for his funeral.

    When I cast one of the deciding votes to pass the Affordable Care Act that year — a vote many warned might cost me my seat — I wore one of my father’s old wool suits. He had opposed Hillary Clinton’s 1993 health-care plan but watched regretfully as the insurance companies spread like a cancer across his profession, choking out the space between doctor and patient. I felt him nodding with approval from on high.

    My dad liked Governor Joe Manchin and would have really loved Sen. Manchin for his decency and determination to fight for forgotten towns and workers. This year, the Democratic senator from West Virginia has shown marked political courage by embracing at least the aspirations of President Biden’s agenda to “build back better,” sending a signal to colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this is a time to unite around solutions rather than hide in the shadow of base politics.

    As his colleagues fail to answer this call, Manchin is rapidly approaching a test of his convictions on what he must do to protect America’s historic experiment with democracy. West Virginia became a state when its citizens had the honor to break away from Virginia to defend our more perfect union. Now, their senior senator may need to break traditions to defend voting rights and the integrity of our elections. Manchin recently indicated his inability to support the For the People Act unless Republican senators show the courage to put democracy over party. He stated no substantive disagreements with the reforms, which would limit partisan gerrymandering, dark money, foreign election interference, and corporate corruption, while adopting existing voting rights and expanded election protections.

    Defending voting rights and election integrity should not and cannot be a partisan issue. As the Pew Research Center found, large majorities of Americans support making it easier to vote and reducing the power of special interests through the kinds of policies enshrined in the For the People Act. It’s just the Republicans in Congress who refuse to support it.

    One party is attacking democracy, and that same party is blocking attempts to protect it. Citing that as an excuse to disarm unilaterally is like telling a farmer whose cattle are being stolen that he needs the thief’s permission to put up cameras or hire guards. The bipartisanship Manchin celebrates from the 1980s, at its best, represented genuine compromise. Frankly, in this era, anything the diverse body of 50 Democratic senators can agree on probably would have been seen as “bipartisan” back then. My father’s family swung from JFK Republicans to Reagan Democrats, but they’d be at a loss to understand the Republican caucus of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

    When I came to Congress, I represented a deep red district and dreamed of bipartisanship, and I was proud to retain support from independent and Republican voters and outperform the party brand by double digits. But the one place I found no bipartisanship was on the Hill. A few months after I was sworn in, I knew reelection the following year was a long shot. We Democrats failed to convince Americans that we were focused on the economy, and the quiet recovery was not being felt by fall of 2010.

    Biden’s bold approach today reflects an understanding that, had we been able to move bolder and earlier — for instance, passing health-care reform in the summer of 2009 with a Medicare buy-in and cheaper prescription drugs — we would have won over more moderates than by taking the perceived “moderate” path that enabled corporate-captured senators to waste time and water down reforms.

    A decade later, I carry three lessons from my 2009 health care vote.

    First, no regrets. Why ask the voters for political power if not to use it when it matters most? I still get letters from people thanking me: Parents whose kids are growing up with the security Obamacare provides, or entrepreneurs able to start businesses because they no longer felt tied to their old job for the health insurance. I have also been reminded time and again that there is a job much better than being in Congress, and that’s being a former member of Congress. I have devoted the past decade to issues of justice at home and abroad dear to my heart, with a bigger staff and free from the constant fear that an innocuous remark will be taken out of context to become a viral attack ad.

    Second, tough votes are better taken early in the election cycle than late. The months we took debating health care did not make the bill stronger or more popular. It just left more time for it to be demonized and less time for the positive effects to be felt. The reforms in these two new voting rights bills are widely popular — for instance, making Election Day a national holiday and automatically registering eligible voters. They’ll be even more so when voters see how easy and safe it is for them to vote, how much harder it is for politicians to gerrymander districts, and why corporations will have a harder time corrupting our politics.

    Manchin has taken a strong stance in favor of protecting voting rights and election integrity. He has said he supports another important voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the voting and election protections in the For the People Act are urgently vital complements to that legislation for addressing 21st century threats to our democracy. Many other reforms Manchin has touted are in the 800 pages of the For the People Act and must find their way into law.

    Third, Americans are so deeply cynical about Washington that the only way to build support from a broad, bipartisan set of voters is to err on the side of the boldest possible reforms. Watering down reform does not strengthen support from Republican, Democrat or independent voters — it only fuels their cynicism. If we had taken the bolder stance on the ACA, it would have been a winning issue by the midterms. With our democracy on life support, this is not the time for bandages but a robust treatment to drive a full recovery. This means not just making our elections a model for the world again, but removing corruption’s greatest ally in Washington, the filibuster, to do so.

    My father’s adage about judgment day was really an old-fashioned case for something lost in today’s politics: honor. Joe Manchin is justifiably frustrated with colleagues focused more on avoiding a primary than doing what’s right. But the reality is that even the shocking actions and images of Jan. 6 could not catalyze a bipartisan front to defend democracy. Manchin is principled to set such a high bar for how the Senate proceeds, but his toughest ethical test may be how to do what is necessary when his Republican colleagues fail to meet that bar. Let’s aim higher than bipartisanship inside the Beltway.

  16. So, because Manchin & Sinema don’t get it (and I think they really do, they just want to keep their jobs), nothing of substance will get done, voters will be discouraged and feel betrayed. They will stay home in 2022 and the Republicans will take back the Senate & the House and good-bye democracy. Wonder how our delusional senators will like living in an autocracy?

  17. Kathy M – that could easily happen – DEMS need to get SOMETHING done – doesn’t have to be BIG or a silver bullet – just some MEANINGFUL CHANGE – especially meaningful to young people, minorities and the poor.

  18. The filibuster is a tool of obstruction to kill legislation. The Senate has been stymied by it for years. No wonder so many voters think government is not working for them, or not working at all so much of the time. We see the fruits of that obstruction in demonstrations and insurrection. It’s not assured that democracy will survive a government that no longer works for the average citizen.

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