Separation of Parties, not Powers?

Both George and Greg suggest that my separation of powers argument concerning Biden’s air strikes doesn’t square with the fact that political parties have replaced the separation of powers. I agree with them that this has now become the conventional opinion regarding the separation of powers. And, as they rightly note, the dominance of parties over powers is especially clear during unified control of government. The majority party in Congress doesn’t assert its institutional rights very strongly if it also controls the Presidency. That being said, I think this argument is somewhat overstated. Ultimately, it depends some on thinking of political actors as solely one thing. Just like they’re either solely Republicans or Democrats, so too they should either be solely legislators or executives. Perhaps, however, we should think of political partisans as using institutional partisanship at certain times. The institutional partisanship still matters. Republicans in Congress arguing against Biden’s air strikes are still contributing a legislative perspective to our politics. And the Democrat in the White House contributes an executive perspective. Even if they’re using those arguments for purposes that line up with their party, they’re still using the arguments. To quote Federalist #51, “the interest of the man” is still connected “to the constitutional rights of the place.” Of course, we have to accept the inevitable hypocrisy that follows from those interests migrating between institutions depending on which party controls which. But did the founders really expect some version of the Tories vs. the Whigs, i.e. the party of the King versus the party of Parliament? Party politics still incorporates and is transformed by the separation of powers. Partisans can also distinguish themselves by asserting the constitutional rights of the place over and against their parties, i.e. Mitt Romney.

If we judge separation of powers success solely by institutional partisanship vs. political partisanship then George and Greg are absolutely right that political partisanship is more important. But, I don’t think there’s as separable as Greg and George want them to be. Frequently political partisanship gets framed in institutional terms and vice versa. I don’t see why this is necessarily a bad thing, unless we were supposed to fulfill the old British monarchical model. If the institutional arguments are being voiced and there’s contestation over them, then isn’t that some separation of powers success?

One thought on “Separation of Parties, not Powers?

  1. The key issue is whether partisan motivation leads to institutional argumentation. It used to do so. There used to be a sequence of rhetorical translation. That is the form in which hypocrisy was (and could be) a virtue of constitutional design. Parties have changed, especially the GOP in the last 15 years. Hyper-partisanship means that there is no vice paying homage to constitutional virtue. There is just vice — political corruption all the time. Constitutional resources are now hijacked and redeployed for crass partisan purposes. The is a profound decay of the constitutional order and the apotheosis of congressional abdication.

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