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www.goodeatsfanpage.com • View topic - The Republicans are the problem:

The Republicans are the problem:

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The Republicans are the problem:

Postby Kinsley » Tue May 15, 2012 4:49 am

Last month, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein wrote:Let's stop pretending that both sides are equally to blame for political gridlock

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video
asserting that there are "78 to 81" Democrats in Congress who are members
of the Communist Party. Of course, it's not unusual for some renegade
lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What
made Mr. West's comment so striking was the almost complete lack of
condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party
figures.

It's not that GOP leaders agree with Mr. West; it is that such extreme
remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40
years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In the past, we have
criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, 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, dismissive of the legitimacy of
its political opposition and unmoved by conventional understanding of facts,
evidence and science.

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, an
untenable strategy when one side is so far out of reach.

The center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right.
Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators -- think Bob Michel,
Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel -- are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing most of its
conservative Dixiecrat contingent after the civil rights revolution, has
retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to
the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the
Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the
Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

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 1973 Roe 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.

From the day he entered Congress in 1979, Mr. Gingrich had a strategy to
create a Republican majority in the House: convincing voters that the
institution was so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents,
especially those in the Democratic majority. It took him 16 years, but by
bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders; provoking them into
overreactions that united Republicans to vote against Democratic initiatives;
exploiting scandals to create even more public disgust with politicians; and
then recruiting GOP candidates around the country to run against
Washington, Democrats and Congress, Mr. Gingrich accomplished his goal.

Ironically, after becoming speaker, Mr. Gingrich wanted to enhance
Congress's reputation and was content to compromise with President Bill
Clinton when it served his interests. But the forces Mr. Gingrich unleashed
destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines, activated an extreme
and virulently anti-Washington base -- most recently represented by Tea
Party activists -- and helped drive moderate Republicans out of Congress.

Mr. Norquist, meanwhile, founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 and
rolled out his Taxpayer Protection Pledge the following year. The pledge,
which binds its signers to never support a tax increase, had been signed as
of last year by 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP
senators, according to ATR. The Norquist tax pledge has led to other pledges,
on issues such as climate change, that create additional litmus tests that box
in moderates and make cross-party coalitions nearly impossible. For
Republicans concerned about a primary challenge from the right, the failure
to sign such pledges is simply too risky.

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, 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.

In the last two 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.

On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on
climate change and health care reform, Republicans have been the driving
force behind the widening ideological gap and the strategic use of
partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders
have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their
party's most strident voices.

Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems
and the impact of policies when those assessments don't fit their ideology. In
the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the
party's leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-
side view of economic growth -- thus fulfilling Mr. Norquist's pledge -- while
ignoring contrary considerations.

The results can border on the absurd: In early 2009, several of the eight
Republican co-sponsors of a bipartisan health care plan dropped their
support; by early 2010, the others had turned on their own proposal so that
there would be zero GOP backing for any bill that came within a mile of
Obama's reform initiative. As one co-sponsor, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-
Tenn., told The Washington Post: "I liked it because it was bipartisan. I
wouldn't have voted for it."

Seven Republican co-sponsors of a Senate resolution to create a debt-
reduction panel voted in January 2010 against their own resolution, solely to
keep it from getting to the 60-vote threshold Republicans demanded and
thus denying the president a seeming victory.

This attitude filters down through the party. 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.

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 Bill Clinton and Barack 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 9/11 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.

The GOP's evolution has become too much for some longtime Republicans.
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel called his party "irresponsible" at the height of the
debt-ceiling battle in August. "I think the Republican Party is captive to
political movements that are very ideological, that are very narrow," he
said. "I've never seen so much intolerance as I see today in American
politics."

Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished
diatribe last year about why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly
three decades. "The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a
traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more
like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian
parties of 20th century Europe," he wrote on the Truthout website.

Shortly before Rep. West went off the rails with his accusations of
communism in the Democratic Party, 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.
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.

In the House, some of the remaining centrist and conservative "Blue Dog"
Democrats have been targeted for extinction by redistricting, while even
ardent Tea Party Republicans, such as freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee of
Mississippi, have faced primary challenges from the right for being too
accommodationist. Mitt Romney's rhetoric and positions offer no indication
that he would govern differently if his party captures the White House and
both chambers of Congress.

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.

In the end, though, it is up to voters to decide. If they punish ideological
extremism at the polls and look skeptically upon candidates who profess to
reject all dialogue and bargaining with opponents, then an insurgent outlier
party will have some impetus to return to the center. Otherwise, our political
system will get worse before it gets better.

Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
(nornstein@aei.org), Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution (tmann@brookings.edu), and are authors of the new book "It's
Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided
with the New Politics of Extremism".


The Artist formerly known as BigCrab


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"They were so preoccupied with what they could do, that they didn't
think about whether they should.''
- Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park .

"You can't always get what you want; but if you try sometimes,
you just might find, you get what you need."
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Kinsley
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