Republican Extremism and Intransigence: Not Newsworthy

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By Francis Wilkinson

For decades, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute have occupied the bull's eye at the center of the middle of Washington centrism.

So it's pretty amazing that they can drop a book like "It's Even Worse Than It Looks" smack in the center (sorry) of an election year and cause so few political ripples. In a review in the New York Times last Sunday, Michael Crowley seemed to be working to stifle a yawn. Granted, political scientists don't get to set the terms of election debate. But Mann and Ornstein's assessment of the Republican Party's role in American governance is unerringly stark:

The pathologies we've identified, old and new, provide incontrovertible evidence of people who have become more loyal to party than to country. As a result, the political system has become grievously hobbled at a time when the country faces unusually serious challenges and grave threats.

If that's too subtle, try this: "Much of the dysfunctionality Americans observe in their government is a direct consequence of the GOP's unabashed ambition to reverse decades of economic social policy by any means available."

When do we get to the "on the one hand, on the other hand" part?

But to use the hold and filibuster to undermine laws on the books from being implemented is an underhanded tactic, one reflecting, in our view, the increasing dysfunction of a parliamentary-style minority party distorting the rules and norms of the senate to accomplish its ideological and partisan ends.

The indictment continues in rat-a-tat style, fingering Republicans for:

The single-minded focus on scoring political points over solving problems.

Sharply asymmetric polarization, with an insurgent Republican Party far from the mainstream of American politics.

The widespread denial of an elected president's legitimacy.

An unbending opposition-party strategy of obstructing, demonizing, and nullifying presidential initiatives, accomplishments and appointments during economic crisis.

The hostage taking of the full faith and credit of the United States.

Nonnegotiable demands producing gridlock on issues of prime importance, including economic recovery and deficits and debt.

And the one quote from the book that does seem to have broken through the media:

The Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

It's hard to imagine a more wholesale indictment from two eminent political scientists, each with a decades-long track record of nonpartisan analysis. It's equally hard to imagine the press quietly absorbing a similarly pedigreed indictment of the Democratic Party; the elite press, in particular, would likely talk of nothing else. Yet mainstream news outlets, while giving the authors fairly prominent play, seem to treat the their thesis as neither new nor news.

What gives?

Perhaps it's the soft bigotry of low expectations. The most anguish over the state of the Republican Party seems to flow from conservatives in varied states of excommunication, such as David Frum, Bruce Bartlett and a cadre of smart, young writers who object to the empowered-state vision of Democrats but can't abide the  devolution of the Republicans. Many liberals, having perhaps never given sufficient credence to conservative thought in the first place, regard the book's premise with a knowing shrug.  Elected Republicans, naturally, dismiss the book as partisan hackery (though former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel gave it an enthusiastic blurb). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with characteristic deference to facts, denounced the authors as "ultra, ultra liberal." But the authors -- and their centrist disposition -- are well known. Perhaps their thesis is, too. It's just that no one knows what can be done about it, or by whom.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Jul/26/2012 16:29 GMT