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The Elephant in the Room

There is a must-read opinion piece in the Washington Post from Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein.

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.

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. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. 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.

They don’t exempt the media from their criticism:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.



  1. Don wrote:

    Outstanding op/ed piece, although I’m not sure I’d give so much credit to Newtie. Comments concerning the media are spot on. I’d also disagree with their comment that things haven’t been this polarized in 100 years. There was definitely a very large political upheaval with the progressive/bull moose folks in the 19-teens, but that was nothing like today’s goings on. Far more constrained.

    Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  2. Patricia wrote:

    For a remarkable read on the same subject go to — I don’t know what tools we have (other than web sites like this one) to get the voice of rational thinkers heard.

    Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  3. ThatGuy wrote:

    I always think it’s unbelievable that conservatives claim liberal media bias when it usually seems media personalities go out of their way not to criticize the ridiculous crap said by politicians of any stripe.

    Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    Don, I thought they said 40 years, not 100.

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 1:49 am | Permalink
  5. Michael wrote:

    I was watching This Week this morning, and they were discussing the GM bailout. David M. Walker (former U.S. Comptroller), who was seated over on the conservative side (he is technically an independent, though he is a deficit hawk), made a very interesting comment that may have been a Freudian slip. Jennifer Granholm, Eric Schmidt, and Paul Krugman were arguing that the bailout was necessary and successful, providing numbers about the unemployment rate in Michigan and the surrounding areas. I.e., they were making a very fact-driven argument. Walker’s response was, “Just because it worked doesn’t make it right.”

    I would file that under “Yet more evidence that conservatives–even ones who are just fiscal conservatives–care more about ideological purity than policy effects.”

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Michael, I have a small amount of sympathy for that argument. Let me make an analogy. There have been benevolent dictators who were good for their countries, but that doesn’t make dictatorship right (or even good).

    If businesses know that if they are big enough, they don’t have to worry about taking risks because the government will take care of them if things go sour. It is not a good situation.

    To me, however, the train has already left the station. Big businesses already know they will get bailed out, because they have so much influence in Washington. I am still against the idea of the auto bailout, but given the circumstances it was probably a necessary evil. I am just afraid that bailouts have become business as usual.

    The solution is to start splitting up the big companies so that individually they are not too big to fail. And find a way to limit the influence of lobbyists. The real problem isn’t the bailout, it is our march toward fascism (government by and for the corporations).

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  7. Masquarr wrote:

    “We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.”

    This part reminded me of the article “Polarized News? The Media’s Moderate Bias” in Time magazine:,9171,1935096,00.html

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    In my view, the dictatorship comparison is kind of a red herring. Walker’s statement was about the one action (or group of actions, if you want to talk about all bailouts). It is a stretch to extrapolate that to the view that a dictator is good if he just does a few good things. I don’t think the analogy quite works.

    But I wholly agree with your last paragraph. “Too big to fail” should mean “about to get broken up.”

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    “…political 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….”

    This must have been what I was thinking of. I’ve been reading quite a bit about the 1880s to 1930s lately. I’ll modify my remark and say that I fully agree with Poole and Rosenthal. Frankly, I’m not sure the Republicans have ever been this wigged out.

    Sorry to confuse the issue.

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

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