Two of Washington’s most eminent political observers, Thomas E. Mann of the left-leaning Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, published an awesome op-ed in today’s Washington Post on the truly sorry state of our national politics. And they did something extraordinary: they courageously laid the blame squarely at the feet of a Republican Party that has become unhinged. They make the point that unless Americans reject ideological extremism at the polls this November, we’ll get the dysfunctional government we deserve. And the two guys they blame most? Newt Gingrich, the architect of the politics of division and destruction that began with the Congressional GOP takeover in 1992, and Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform who pioneered the “No New Taxes Pledge” that’s become a litmus test for GOP candidates.
Some of Mann/Ornstein’s bon mots:
“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”
“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.”
“Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies…And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.”
“In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade.”
“Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock.”
“Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.”
“No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking.”
“(P)olitical scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP.”
“If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.”
It’s a terrific column and a cautionary tale. As I’ve said before, our national politics are in a death spiral as we are losing our ability as a nation to deal with complex, expensive issues before us — like long-overdue Medicare reform — because of Republican obstructionism. I continue to believe the President will be narrowly re-elected but the GOP will hold the House, and we will face another 4 years of vitriolic gridlock. This will be our “Lost Decade” like the Japanese had in the 90s. And all because the Grand Old Party has lost its mind.