Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mann and Ornstein: Republicans are the Problem

A good piece by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein on how Republicans are the problem in Washington, D.C. today. It is not news to any fair-minded observer of what has been happening over the past 20 years or so.

The piece is worth a full read as I'm sure their book is (I haven't had a chance to read it). But I'll just add a small quibble with one of their points and some full-throated praise for what they recommend at the end.

First, the quibble. Mann and Ornstein argue that Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist are more responsible for the Republican Party rocketing towards the nihilist, do-nothing, and radical party it has become than any other force. They say:
What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.
My quibble is that I think this overstates both of these individuals's influence. To put this another way, if an alternate universe existed where everything else was the same and Gingrich and Norquist just didn't exist there, how different would the outcome be there? Not very different in my opinion. Gingrich was a creature of his time. He arrived in the House in 1979, just after the House had completed its fit of institutional reforms of the previous decade and a half. Being in the minority in the House had become a VERY unpleasant place to be and Gingrich experienced only that world. That he lashed out the way he did, with the tactics he used, and with the hateful, angry tone he exhibited is a bit like blaming a child in a broken home for exhibiting emotional problems. If it hadn't been Gingrich, it would have been someone else leading the "Republican Revolution." Worse yet, it might have been someone talented. The same goes for Norquist. The anti-tax movement certainly didn't start with Norquist and it certainly wasn't propelled by his political skill or his ideas. It would have been there either way.

In short, I think blaming these two for the Republican Party's move to the absurd right is giving them far too much credit.

Now, the praise. Mann and Ornstein argue that the only way the Republican Party will be brought back from the abyss is through a reality check from the media and from voters. Voters need to reject a Party that consistently opposes the very policies it dreamed up and has always supported just because Barack Obama now supports them. The media needs to stop pretending that even-handedness means letting "both sides" speak and getting out of the way. Instead, the media should take seriously its role in calling a distortion (or a lie) a distortion (or a lie). The media also needs to stop letting senators off the hook for filibustering and holds. These things are fundamentally undemocratic and, more importantly, corrosive to good government. The Senate is undemocratic enough with its absurd overrepresentation of rural interests. Sadly, there is nothing we can do about that as it is the one thing in the Constitution that cannot even be amended (see Article V). But the media can stop pretending what is happening in the Senate is normal or that it is something that happened before. It isn't and it hasn't.

It is hard to see how either of these things will happen any time soon. But credit Mann and Ornstein for starting us down the right road by stating the truth: The Republicans ARE the problem.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I'm surprised Mann and Ornstein focus as much as they do on the mid 1970s, rather than the late 1960s. I've always thought Poole's work pretty effectively (albeit implicitly) highlights the secular realignment in the South driven by the CRA and VRA as the root of party consolidation and realignment.