“The Scofflaw” – Party Whips

For seemingly no reason at all, Jerry asks Kramer if he knows what the “whip” in the Senate and House of Representatives does? Kramer responds “well, you know in the old days, when the senators didn’t vote the way that the party leaders wanted ’em to… they whipped them.” Is Kramer right?

Believe it or not Kramer is actually 100 percent right, though not quite so literally. A whip is an official position of most political parties tasked with ensuring that party members of the legislature vote according to the party platform rather than by their own individual ideologies or rationales. It’s origin is from the term “whipper-in,” used to refer to the person tasked with keeping the hounds from straying during a fox-hunt. The Democrats first created a whip position in their party in 1913, and the Republicans followed suit 2 years later in 1915. Many Senate whips have gone on to be the Senate majority leader later in their political lives, and one, Lyndon Johnson, even went on to be president. The whip is the 3rd ranking member of the majority party in each congressional branch, and the 2nd ranking member of the minority party.

While Kramer makes the job of the whip sound as simple as cracking a whip, the fact of the matter is that it’s not so easy to be a party whip, especially in the American system. Unlike in Parliamentary systems, like the United Kingdom, congresspeople are elected directly by their constituents, and are therefore somewhat immune from the retributive tactics whips in parliamentary systems can utilize to motivate members to vote along party lines. Because of this, a popular Senator or member of the House of Representatives can buck the party’s demands and still win their election. Additionally, because of America’s doctrine of separation of powers, congresspeople can not serve in the executive branch while simultaneously serving in the legislature (another distinction from parliamentary systems), which limits the promises whips can make to party members in exchange for their votes.

You better vote the way we want you to, or there's gonna be big trouble.

So how do whips get their party members in line? Oftentimes, whips will promise appointments to highly coveted committees in exchange for a vote, party support for a legislator’s bill proposal, or a future position in the executive branch if the party takes control of the presidency and executive branch.

So while the whip doesn’t actually whip anyone the way Kramer describes, Kramer does accurately capture the spirit of what the whip’s job is to do. Whether he actually knew that he knew what he was talking about or was just falling ass backwards into this tidbit of American politics, as he does nearly everything else, we’ll never know for sure. But kudos to Kramer for getting this one right.

- Hey, you know what the whip does? - What whip?

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