WASHINGTON, May 7, 2012 — Something awful happened on the way to the 21st Century. This should have been the new American century, but by the time the Republican Party got through with us, we were a country, battered, on its knees, reeling from the body blows.
Instead of hanging their heads in shame, Republicans had the gall to call it Leadership and now advocate for more of the same. Sadly, many Americans caught up in their own web of paranoia, don’t understand why their government failed them, hearing only pithy sound bites that somehow strike a chord in their frightened souls:
“Government is too big.”
“Taxes are too high.”
“The government wants our guns.”
“Government is interfering in our lives.”
“Socialist Obama is not Christian or American.”
“Illegals are running across the border in droves, destroying our country.”
“Most Democrats in Congress are Communists or Socialists like Nancy Pelosi.”
The Republicans have successfully bamboozled many Americans into thinking the very policies under President George W. Bush which led us to the brink of economic catastrophe are the ones we not only need to return to, but need to double down on, i.e. the Ryan Budget.
New Book Doesn’t Shrink from Reality
A new book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” by Congressional scholars Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the moderate think tank Brookings Institute, and Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Institute, confronts our uniquely American problem head on.
The big surprise is that even Ornstein, a long time Conservative, shakes his head in disbelief at what is happening to our country, writing with Mann:
“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.”
Anyone who has studied Congress since the 2010 elections has to be appalled, no matter what political party s/he supports. Ever since Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proclaimed in the fall of 2010 that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” the Republicans have successfully sabotaged every initiative that Obama has attempted, including improving the economy. If the economy stays in the tank, Republicans, so goes their thinking, can win in November. And if it means gridlock through the use of the arcane filibuster rule, then so be it.
No wonder the latest Rasmussen poll found that only 8% of the likely voting public believes Congress is doing a good or excellent job.
Then there are the likes of Tea Party Congressman Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.), who when asked by a constituent whether President Obama had campaigned to “make America fail,” answered by saying of the slow climb out the Great Recession: “A lot of people think this is being done on purpose.” Got that right, Congressman, but it is not a President Obama diabolical plot, but the Republican game plan.
Why Has the GOP Tolerated Inflammatory Rhetoric?
However, when we hear Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) proclaim that 78-81 Democrats in Congress are members of the Communist Party, we tend to write him off as merely a wing nut, but when the leaders of his own party don’t shut down such extremist views, which are damaging to any sense of collegiality in Congress, then the public says, “Pox on both your Houses.”
So why is such vitriol even tolerated by the Republican leadership? In their crazed desire to win at any cost, the GOP leadership has sold its soul to the devil. They are terrified by the influence of the Tea Party, which they initially encouraged, not realizing they had a tiger by the tail. They cower before the likes of Grover Norquist, the billionaire’s best friend, and his group Americans for Tax Reform. Nearly every Republican in Congress has signed the Norquist pledge, aka the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, vowing never, ever to raise taxes or even close loopholes in the tax code.
Republicans have stepped back from the reasonableness of yesteryear when they supported a public mandate for health care reform and deplored global warming. Today the GOP is a party of extremist enclaves from the NRA faction to the ultra social conservatives who were able to force out Mitt Romney’s aide Nick Grenell because he is gay. These people are the third wing of the new Republican Party.
Just look at moderate Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) who served Republican voters of the Hoosier State so well for 36 years and now finds himself in the primary fight of his life against a Tea Partier, Indiana treasurer Richard Mourdock. Lugar will most likely lose on Tuesday night and probably by as much as 10 points.
What is the sin that Senator Lugar committed that has turned Indiana Republicans against him? He is too moderate and they cite his vote to raise the U.S. debt limit, his favoring the 2008 bank bailouts under Bush, and his support for President Obama’s Supreme Court appointees.
This is exactly what is wrong with the GOP, and Mann and Ornstein focused on this new attitude by the GOP leadership and the rank and file Republican voter, who are “eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock.”
The New Republican Party Has Driven Out Its Moderates
This perverse attitude has driven out the likes of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe and former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who in an interview with the Financial Times last summer, called his party “irresponsible,” adding “I’ve never seen so much intolerance as I see today in American politics.”
Then there is Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, once the best friend in the Senate of the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, with whom he devised some significant bills. Good thing Kennedy is not around to see what his old friend is like nowadays. Hatch, who was a moderate conservative, has moved far Right, spouting some of the most ridiculous, extreme sound bites.
Why the new Hatch? He is running against another Tea Party candidate and he has had a conversion to “true conservatism” so he can head off the challenge. No more working across the aisle for Orrin Hatch. He has been saved from himself by the Tea Party Express. And he just may beat back his challenger and win the June primary.
So do the authors give the Democratic Party a pass, saying they are the party of reasonableness and fairness? In a word, no.
“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.”
GOP Has A Tiger By Its Tail and Can’t Let Go
They noted that Democrats were hostile to President Bush (43), not forgetting how he won in 2000. However, they also worked on No Child Left Behind with him, gave him the necessary votes to get the tax cuts through, and supported his bailout efforts in 2008.
However, such bipartisanship is no longer evidenced by the Republicans.
The authors hold out little hope that things will change after this year’s election. For one thing, they don’t see mainstream reporters doing their job, which is to point out when one side or the other tells a lie. For another, the press must stop the “balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon [because it] distorts reality.”
As Ornstein told Judy Woodruff on PBS, the problem with the media today is that “We don’t share a common set of facts. And we live in worlds that amplify those differences and, in fact, help to create the hype that we’re in a tribal world and you’ve got to oppose the other side because they’re evil.”
Both authors want to see the GOP regain its historic, cultural, and philosophical core, but again they aren’t holding their breath until that happens. And they don’t expect to see Republican voters push their leaders to do the right thing, but rather they will continue to do the far Right thing.
The authors predict for the near future, the GOP and thus our country is dire straits. If you thought the past few years have been bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Or as Mann and Ornstein put it, “If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.”
That leaves America in an untenable position, perhaps the worst since just before the Civil War. So are we doomed to become a second rate country, thanks to the GOP’s path to self-destruction? It appears the book’s title is apt: It’s Worse Than It Even Looks.
You can read a summary of their ideas that were printed as an op ed piece by clicking here.
To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.
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