The Dysfunctional Democratic Party

There are times when the Democrats truly live up to the image of their mascot, the ass. Such was the case on Thursday, June 28, a day that should have been a day of celebration for Democrats everywhere as the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. But the other major headline of the day showed Democrats at their dysfunctional worst.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to cite Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress, the first time a sitting Cabinet member has ever been so cited in the history of our country. The move was the culmination of an ongoing power struggle between Congress and the Department of Justice and the motivations were clearly as political as they were any real search for the truth.

Only one Republican crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats to spare Holder this embarrassment. On the other hand, 17 Democrats voted with the Republicans while a large contingent of Democratic representatives left the building in protest.

Why is it that on issue after issue, Republicans show solidarity while Democrats splinter and blunt their own strength in numbers? Why is it that there is no Republican analogue to the “Blue Dog” Democrat? Blue Dogs are recognized as moderate to conservative leaning Democrats who are accepted for who they are. Republicans who go off the talking points are labeled RINO’s (Republican in name only) and are shunned. As I sat in disgust watching the vote Thursday evening I was reminded of the work done by Jonathan Haidt, about which I’ve written before.

In that work most recently represented in his book The Righteous Mind, Haidt argues that we are governed by five basic moral foundations and that conservatives have a pretty even balance of all five. Liberals on the other hand value fairness very highly and loyalty not much at all.

In the above graph, if we ignore the first bar in each series (those are my personal ratings) and just focus on the other two bars we see that conservatives (the right red bar) value concern for harm, fairness, loyalty, respect for authority and purity/sanctity evenly. For liberals (the middle blue bar), concern for harm (i.e. caring) and fairness are primary and all other moral considerations take a back seat.

Perhaps this explains the dysfunctional Democratic behavior I witnessed Thursday evening. The Democrat’s sense of fairness (i.e. that Holder was getting a raw deal) led a bunch of them to walk out of the chamber. On the other hand their relatively low regard for loyalty led a decent number of them to side with the opposition.

Haidt’s prescription for future harmony is that we understand and accept these differences in each other and that liberals and conservatives live in a yin/yang relationship where each is valuable. From a political perspective, I have to disagree with Haidt. Liberals are not going to achieve their goals unless they develop the same sense of loyalty and solidarity found among conservatives. There is obviously the glass-half-full approach to this that there is value in independence (lack of loyalty) but in a political fight I find that glass half empty.


Graph can be generated at

Drawing by David Ball (Original work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons Political Blogger Alliance