Saturday, April 28, 2012

The New Politics of Hostage Taking? Actually, Republicans Are Not the Problem

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have a new book due out next Tuesday, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

The title of this post is taken from their first chapter, "The New Politics of Hostage Taking." I'm not sure if I'm all that interested in reading the book. Sure, Mann and Ornstein are highly respected political scientists, and they're not especially prone to partisan hackery (or they haven't been previously), but when your main thesis is that the Republicans are the problem --- that Republicans are extremist --- then, well, I doubt you can claim scholarly objectivity. And frankly, the authors confess as much in their commentary at the Washington Post, "Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem." An excerpt:
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.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.

Look ahead to the likely consequences of voters’ choices in the November elections. How would the candidates govern? What could they accomplish? What differences can people expect from a unified Republican or Democratic government, or one divided between the parties?

In the end, while the press can make certain political choices understandable, it is up to voters to decide. If they can 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 politics will get worse before it gets better.
Oh brother.

Talk about giving up any pretense of fairness or analytical detachment. Mann and Ornstein want the GOP to fail. They've got a book coming out demonizing the party as a gang of hostage takers and they've put out the directive to the press to get with the program. Never mind the fact that other political science research puts current trends in political gridlock into longer-term context, for example, Alan Abramowitz's, The Polarized Public. The authors have their meme and they're sticking with it --- or else!

And hey, don't miss Victor Davis Hanson, "Obama shouldn’t preach about civility":
President Obama has repeatedly derided the sort of Republican partisanship that led the current minority party in the Senate to filibuster some of his appointments – most prominently his nomination of Goodwin Liu to the federal bench. But Sen. Obama not long ago strongly advocated such partisan obstructionism when, out of power, he praised the filibuster as much as he now deplores it while in power.

Indeed, he joined a filibuster to deny votes on the nominations of both Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court and John Bolton to the U.N. ambassadorship....

We are now engaged in a continuing debate about debt, taxes and spending. Both sides have vastly different ideas about how to solve our financial problems, and they will continue to embrace tough talk to win over public opinion to their respective sides. We hope for the best argumentation but expect the worst – democratic politics being what it is. And President Obama, the past master of bare-fisted partisan invective, knows that better than anyone.

So spare us any more of the bottled piety, Mr. President. Instead, just make the argument to the public that borrowing $4 billion a day is still necessary and sustainable – and explain how it came to be that this post-recession recovery on your watch is the weakest since World War II.
Well now, I think that's just a tad bit closer to the truth.