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Strategic Disagreement

Strategic Disagreement: Stalemate in American Politics

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Strategic Disagreement
    Book Description:

    Politics may be the art of compromise, but accepting a compromise can be hazardous to a politician's health. Politicians worry about betraying faithful supporters, about losing the upper hand on an issue before the next election, that accepting half a loaf today can make it harder to get the whole loaf tomorrow. In his original interpretation of competition between parties and between Congress and the president, Gilmour explains the strategies available to politicians who prefer to disagree and uncovers the lost opportunities to pass important legislation that result from this disagreement.

    Strategic Disagreement, theoretically solid and rich in evidence, will enlighten Washington observers frustrated by the politics of gridlock and will engage students interested in organizational theory, political parties, and divided government.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7169-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction: Strategies of Disagreement
    (pp. 3-14)

    Passing important national legislation in the United States almost always requires contending parties and factions to accept compromises that give them less than they really want. The hundred days under Franklin D. Roosevelt stands out as an exception, but normally no party or faction has sufficient dominance over Congress and the presidency to enact unilateral solutions, and thus they must bargain with contending interests to assemble a broad supporting coalition.¹ One might think that politicians would accept as inevitable compromises that help a bill to pass—even when they are distasteful and water down a proposal—provided the resulting legislation...

  2. 1 A Bill or an Issue?
    (pp. 15-50)

    Common sense and theory both suggest that people should agree to proposals that make them better off. Roy Wilkins, civil rights leader, once explained, “If you are digging a trench with a teaspoon, and a man comes along and offers you a spade, there is something wrong with your head if you turn it down because he didn’t offer you a bulldozer.”¹ But if we accept this logic, many politicians evidently have something wrong with their heads, because it is entirely possible that Congress will insist on the bulldozer and that no deal will be reached.

    Consider the following situation....

  3. 2 Strategies of Pursuit and Avoidance
    (pp. 51-95)

    This chapter and the next two discuss a set of strategies that arise from competition between two parties or factions for political advantage on highly visible issues. One party begins with an advantage, meaning simply that it is the party most widely seen as likely to take vigorous action in the issue area. Democrats are advantaged in Social Security and health care, among other issues, because most people think they will fight hardest to protect and increase benefit levels. Republicans are advantaged on the crime and defense issues because people think they are tougher on criminals and stronger on defense....

  4. 3 The Strategy of Encroachment
    (pp. 96-118)

    This chapter explores a situation similar to strategic pursuit and avoidance, but with an important difference. It covers instances where no zone of potential agreement exists, but where the disadvantaged party is interested in providing the appearance that the two sides are closer together than they really are. In cases of strategic encroachment, the opponents of a legislative proposal recognize that it has great public appeal and do not want to be seen as foot draggers or naysayers, but at the same time, they would rather avoid having any bill pass. To escape blame for killing a popular program or...

  5. 4 Provoking a Veto
    (pp. 119-131)

    The veto is an important source of presidential power, and all modem presidents make use of this power, but there is something of a puzzle as to why actual vetoes should ever occur.¹ Presidents, after all, are seldom shy about telling Congress what they want in legislation. Legislative leaders are good vote counters, and as they work to pass a bill they should in most instances know whether they will have enough votes to override a veto. When they have the votes to override, they can disregard the preferences and veto threats of the president, and pass the bill they...

  6. 5 Stalemates and Summit Negotiations
    (pp. 132-164)

    When two sets of politicians compete for a single constituency, they are likely to engage in a game of pursuit and avoidance, as depicted in previous chapters. When two sets of politicians seek to appeal to distinctly different constituencies and offer divergent policy prescriptions, they are unlikely to chase after each other. Instead we should expect a stalemate: no movement, and perhaps even no bargaining. The possibility of joint gains forms the basis for negotiations, and where the purposes of the parties are entirely opposed, negotiations seem pointless.

    This chapter examines bargaining in cases where (1) legislation must pass to...

  7. 6 Advice for Moral Politicians
    (pp. 165-172)

    Strategies of disagreement are the tactics politicians use to avoid agreements that would move policy in a direction they ostensibly prefer, but which would either hinder their efforts to gain political advantage over opponents or reduce the opportunity for getting a better deal in the future. These strategies have had a role in many important political debates and legislative episodes. In at least two of the most important domestic policy issues of the post-World War II era—federal aid to education and health care—strategic disagreement appears to have been responsible for lengthy delays in enactment. It is an important...