Michael W. McConnell

Moderation and Coherence in American Democracy

If Professor Pildes is correct, American democracy is in long-term, serious trouble. Our political system “over the last generation has had one defining attribute: the rise of extreme partisan polarization.”1This “hyperpartisanship”2 is not just caused by “divisive political elites and leaders,”3 but is a reflection of the “poisonous party polarization”4 of the electorate itself, the American people. Moreover, if Professor Pildes is correct, not much can be done to ameliorate the situation. His most hopeful suggestion is to move toward more open primaries—a move opposed by the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic Parties.5 But the empirical data supporting even this, he admits, “is actually more mixed and equivocal” than most voters and candidates believe.6 Other commonly suggested reforms, such as controlling gerrymandering or reducing the power of the party leadership in Congress, is either nearly impossible or unlikely to be of much help. So, what do we have to look forward to? Either political paralysis and stalemate7 or greater domination of government by the executive branch, with a breakdown of checks and balances.