Responding to Bachmann:

Continuing yesterday's discussion on the TEA Party's challenge to the extant Republican party, some Republican thoughts on Rep. Bachmann:

When Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was named to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year, one of her Republican colleagues responded this way: “Is that a punchline?” Another simply said, “Jumbo shrimp. Oxymoron.”

Neither dared to attach his name to his comment.
That's not very impressive, guys.

The best response -- from Rep. Walsh -- is still not really an argument.
“She was out of line. She had no business stepping on the official Republican response to the State of the Union,” Walsh said in an interview with POLITICO. “I can say that to you saying I’m a fan of Michele Bachmann’s. She and I think the same on virtually probably every darn issue.”
I say that this isn't an argument because it doesn't answer the question: if it is "out of line" to step on the "official Republican response," why is it out of line? What gives the Republican leadership the legitimate authority to claim the exclusive right to frame a response?

Our party system isn't based on authority, but rather on free association. In many states, you can elect to run as a member of a party without anyone's permission -- for example, in South Carolina, the Democratic Party probably would not have agreed to this.

Mr. Greene paid his money and took his shot, as a free citizen freely choosing to align himself with his party. What if he had won? He would go to the Senate, where he would again freely choose to caucus with the Democratic Party. That second choice is not binding either.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday he is switching parties, almost certainly giving President Barack Obama and the Democrats the ability to build a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The Specter announcement, coming on the eve of the president's 100th day in office, secured the Democrats a 59th seat in the Senate, counting two independents who caucus with the party.
If this is the system, there's nothing like a chain of command that has the authority to assert control over messaging. There is no oath taken, and no legal structure in place. You associate with the party of your choice, only for as long as you want to do so.

That leaves open the question of whether Congressmen should adhere to party discipline even though they do not have to do so. There are two kinds of arguments that could be made for why it would be proper.

1) Money: the national party may have supported your candidacy with cash or other mechanisms. Even though you associate with them on a free basis, you owe them for helping you.

2) Effectiveness: a disciplined party structure is more likely to achieve its agenda than one riven by infighting.

The problem with (1) is that it perverts the intent of the American electoral system. We call members of the House "representatives" because it is descriptive of their duty. They are meant to serve as the representative from their district. The interest of the people who voted for them needs to be their guiding star. To the degree that they let the money flowing through the system distort that guidance, they are off course.

Senators have a slightly different duty, which is to serve as the representatives of their states. That includes their constituents, but also the interests of the state government at the Federal level. If the Senator turns away from those interests in service to a national party, he is failing in his real duty.

The only truly Federal elected officials are the President and Vice-President. These two might reasonably take the will of the national party as some sort of proxy for the will of their whole constituency (although there are still problems with doing so, insofar as the party structure has been captured by wealthy interests). Senators really are not free to do that, if they take their duty to serve their state seriously.

As for (2), it's a very solid point insofar as the party's agenda aligns with your constituents'. If you were elected by a movement like the TEA Party, whose entire point is to force reform, naturally your duty lies in trying to force reform rather than in pursuing an agenda your constituents don't share. Your duty is to try and move the party toward your constituents' agenda.

That may sometimes -- may usually -- involve compromise and negotiation, but it probably doesn't involve submission. A good example might be the Congressional Black Caucus, which generally votes with the party, but certainly makes clear that it has its own reasons for doing so. The difference is that the CBC is an isolated movement unlikely to garner wider support; thus the Democratic leadership can shrug it off. The Republican Party is genuinely threatened with being overthrown and replaced, as its mainline constituents have more reason to align with the TEA Party's populism than with the business interests that long ago captured its leadership. It may be up to the older interests to prove their value to the populists, rather than the other way around.

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