Today was the 10th Anniversary of the Mischief of Faction Blog, which started from the premise that “on balance, a nation is better off with parties than without them.” Seth Masket and Julie Azari took the opportunity to reflect on the state of American political parties. As Masket notes, “The past decade has taught us a lot about the dark side of parties.” Ultimately, Masket, like many in this field, points to the party primary as the problem. Azari, by contrast, urges political scientists to consider whether the traditional goals and assumptions of the field match political realities and institutions. The former is a more comfortable space for election law reformers. And yet, as Azari recognizes, institutions matter. And for the foreseeable future, the Supreme Court (an institution) and its doctrine (part of that institution) significantly constrain the feasibility of many of the most promising ideas for reforming party primaries.
The question then is what options remain for encouraging democratically functional parties. One idea that appears to be gaining ground in public discourse is fusion politics. Just today, Andy Craig published a short but clear argument in favor of fusion politics for Cato. It offers a particularly nice history of efforts to ban fusion candidacies and posits fusion politics as an answer to polarization, one that will bring more independents into politics–and presumably by expanding the electorate increase democratic accountability and responsiveness. While I generally agree with those goals (the latter in particular), I do think we should all pause to reflect on Azari’s most provocative question, what if polarization is “the result of progress on race and gender issues”? Viewed in this light, should we worry that a return to moderation and compromise (even if possible) would be backsliding?