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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Politics, and why Washington doesn't work

The Washington Post yesterday published a provocative opinion piece by Thomas E. Mann of the nonpartisan Brookings Institution and Norman J. Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute under the headline, "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem." With a headline like that, you just know the piece is going to be inflammatory.

And it is. Needfully so. They write:
"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.

"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.

"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, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach."
A powerful indictment, that, and the piece goes on to back it up (I highly encourage you all to go read it). But it also fails to give proper weight to the real problem behind the Republican Party's shift to extremism. The article quotes a line from former Republican Congressional aide Mike Lofgren, written at Truthout after he retired, in which he says 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.” And Rep. Alan West's striking a Joe McCarthy pose and accusing Democratic members of Congress of being communists was a disgusting throwback to our red-bating years (he also has equated Democrats with Nazis).

Yet the writers of the Post opinion piece overlook a key factor here. Any American political party reflects the political views of members. Gerrymandering has helped lock in the power of the extremists in both parties, but you can't lose sight of the fact that the science-denying, red-baiting right-wing extremists in Washington were sent there by voters. The problem, and fault, lies in us, the electorate. The authoritarian nature of the GOP these days reflects the people who voted them in (and the right-ward cast of talk radio helped propel that after the FCC's Fairness Doctrine was killed during the Reagan administration) .

We are locked now less in a crisis of dysfunctional politics than in a crisis of the nation's political soul. And if you doubt that, go read the comments on the article linked above. As Pogo once observed, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
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