In a LA Times op-ed a couple of weeks ago, former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards joined the long list of current and former legislators who bemoan the end of bipartisanship. Like almost all of these members, Edwards fails to understand that the mid-century peak in bipartisanship was a historical aberration. Once the parties realigned on race and Southern Democrats lost their one-party monopoly, it was essentially inevitable that the political system would return to the historical norm of partisanship and polarization.
However, the most annoying part of the piece was his conclusion, which recapitulates the phony "party-in-a-laptop" meme of 2003-2004:
Political theorist Bernard Crick wrote that "politics is how a free people govern themselves." Strong political parties, on the other hand, are how a free people lose that ability. Parties choose which candidates can be on the November ballot, and do so in primaries and conventions that cater to the extremes. Parties reward fealty and discourage independence. In an earlier time, before the Internet, when it was hard to get information about candidates and they had to depend on party support for campaign funds and volunteers, political parties made sense; today, they are passé, black-and-white television, remnants of a time that has passed.
The idea that parties are "passé" or no longer needed as a result of the Internet is simply absurd. (If this were true, what explains the polarization that Edwards decries?) The reality is that political parties do more than simply provide campaign funds and volunteers. The organizational structure they provide in legislatures and the collective accountability mechanism they provide in elections are essential to democracy. For more, see the classic Why Parties? by my Ph.D. adviser John Aldrich.