This is going to be a disjointed post, because it comes from something I wrote on Facebook. And obviously I don’t want it to fall down the memory hole that is Facebook. 🙂
First, some background.
I linked to this — Steve Benen of MaddowBlog pointed to an appearance of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein on Up with Chris Hayes on Sunday. Mann and Ornstein, two gray personages in Washington, wrote an editorial in the Washington Post several weeks ago that “Lets just say it: The Republicans are the problem” with the dysfunction in Washington:
“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.”
They make a point that I’ve seen with increasing frequency — Democrats have become, the conservative party (in the classical sense) because the Republicans have morphed into a band of radical nihilists:
“[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.”
Benen noted two weeks ago that Ornstein and Mann have received no attention in the media because “the rules dictate that ‘both sides’ are always to blame for everything in all instances. Even if reality clearly shows one party more responsible than the other, no one’s allowed to say so — to assign responsibility to those who deserve it is to be biased and irresponsible.”
I merely posted a link, and I received a comment with a link to an editorial by Jonah Goldberg in USA Today: “‘Compromise’ is not a dirty word.” Goldberg writes that Republicans are more than happy to compromise, but Republicans and Democrats start out from fundamentally different points of view.
I pondered this. And here is what I wrote…
The problem extends beyond compromise, because even when Obama has adopted Republican ideas (like the health care reform) Republicans have turned against those ideas. Democrats can, and have, compromised on their programs and ideas in search for elusive Republican votes, and yet those elusive votes are never found.
The problem, I think, is that the Republican Party has decided that it’s unwilling to govern or cooperative on any policy that would promote the common good because they would only be helping the President if they did so. And as the debt ceiling debacle clearly indicated, they are willing to harm the country if it results in a “loss” for the President. They are willing to put personal power and party ahead of country.
I don’t know what to make of Jonah Goldberg’s editorial, to be honest. It reminds me of what Dick Mourdock said after he defeated Dick Lugar in the Indiana Senate primary, words to the effect that compromise is fine if it means Democrats adopting Republican positions.
I recently read Young Guns, the policy book written by Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy. It’s an appallingly written book, even allowing for the failings of the genre, but it’s also an astonishing superficial book. I finished the book having absolutely no idea what they would actually do. Instead, the three Congressmen spend pages writing about how Obama is a meanie and how society is on the wrong track. I wanted a vision of what the conservative utopia should look like. I didn’t get that.
And I know that’s deliberate. Mitt Romney’s policies are deliberately vague so that he can’t be nailed down by them and so that he can’t be critiqued on them. If he says platitudinal, aspirational things, that sounds better than saying that his budget priorities would see Medicare privatized, Social Security cut, and Pell Grants abolished. Paul Ryan says his budgetary roadmap doesn’t do things like this, but the only way the numbers work is if it does things like this. But so long as they don’t say themselves that the policies they want to pursue would do things like this, they know they can get away with being vague. The media won’t catch them on it, and the people who do notice can be said safely to be crazy liberals.
Jonah Goldberg is right, by the way, that there are vast differences in opinion between the two parties about the direction of the country that makes compromise difficult. It’s impossible to have a compromise position between a party that sees government as having a positive role in society and a party sees government as having no role in society. There’s no shared principle there. That’s why I call Republicans “nihilists.” They would rather do nothing than do something that would have any positive benefit.
It’s a clever scam, when you think about it. They can violate the social norms of government and induce governmental dysfunction, thus increasing public cynicism about government, which leads to more Republicans in Congress, which increases government dysfunction.
I agree with Jonathan Chait. This cycle isn’t going to end anytime soon, and it’s pie-in-the-sky optimism to think otherwise. I think it will take the dismantlement of the New Deal/Great Society programs and the resulting social disruption for people to really grasp what’s been done. People like the idea of a libertarian small government in theory, but in practice they like the social contract more.
At that point, I stopped writing. I’d already spent the better part of an hour writing that. I also wasn’t sure what more needed to be said. 🙂
The one thing I would add is this.
The Republican Party, as we know it, is a dying party. Demographic trends are running against it, as Chait explained several months ago. The voter purges in Florida and Texas, to say nothing of the Congressional redistricting process, are all attempts to stem the tide against it.
Why is why this election is so important. This really could be the last roll of the dice for the current Republican Party. And if they win both houses of Congress and the Presidency this year, they can lock in policies, roll back environmental, safety, and employment regulations, dismantle the social safety net, and dominate the courts in ways that it will take a generation or more to undo.
This election will be interesting. And frightening. Often simultaneously.