In an interview with Jennifer Rubin, Jay Cost talks about polarization and the role of clientele groups:
It’s certainly exacerbated things. The two sides are always going to disagree on big, ideological legislation. But when those proposals also include payoffs to some group that is aligned with one party, the other party is going to go ballistic.
Consider, for instance, that paycheck fairness bill the Senate recently voted down. There are big ideological disagreements there, but political considerations were just as salient, if not more so. There was literally no way the GOP was going to get on board with that — as it was a pretty obvious payoff to the trial lawyers lobby. Why should Republicans vote to change the laws in ways that help Democrats raise more money? This was also a big part of the problem the Democrats had with the stimulus. Why should the GOP vote to borrow money to deliver patronage to Democratic groups?
That’s the trouble with client groups in a two-party system: The other side does not want anything to do with them. Why should they? And so that injects a partisan element into the ideological conflict. It’s not simply about liberalism versus conservatism, but also about favoring one set of groups or not. That makes matters worse.