Let’s just say it. After all, that’s what Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein did to the Republicans at the WaPo, apparently set off by this incident:
Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on videoasserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.
It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.
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.
Although Ornstein and Mann claim to “have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted,” they provide no links to all the op-eds they did about the extreme statements about Republicans being Un-American, comparing them to fascists, Nazis, racists and so on made by Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi (on her own and with Steny Hoyer), George Miller, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, Jerrold Nadler, Jesse Jackson Jr., Sam Gibbons, Tom Lantos, Keith Ellison, Baron Hill, Jared Polis, Steve Cohen, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Louise Slaughter. Or Senators Robert Byrd and Blanche Lincoln. Or current Califonia governor Jerry Brown. Or repeat offender Al Gore. People might be forgiven for thinking Democrats, not to mention Ornstein and Mann, take that extreme rhetoric for granted in their rush to condemn the GOP.
As for the supposed anti-science bent of the GOP, Ornstein and Mann probably should not have picked the week in which Gaia theorist James Lovelock announced he and others had been unduly alarmist about global warming to wheel out this particular trope. Moreover, O&M apparently have not noticed the degree to which Democrats are anti-vaccination, anti-nuclear, and anti-animal research. And they missed how Democrats ditch science whenever it threatens party dogma on race and gender issues.
Ornstein and Mann next trot out several GOP boogeymen to explain the current apocalypse. They spend the most venom on vilifying Newt Gingrich, who in their telling poisoned the well by building the first GOP House majority in 40 years by scandal-mongering and demonizing his opponents (Democrats never did this before 1994, you know). Gingrich certainly did shine a light on the corruption of the Democratic leadership of the time, including Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski, and the GOP did benefit on balance in 1994 from the House banking scandal. However, Ornstein and Mann certainly do not make the case that the Wrights and Rostenkowskis were clean and deserved to remain in powerful positions in the House.
Moreover, as self-proclaimed scholars of Congressional history, Ornstein and Mann surely know that the election of a GOP House in 1994 was the culmination of electoral trends stretching back to Eisenhower, accelerated by the rise of the New Left within the Democratic Party starting in the late 60s and early 70s, and turbo-charged by the first two years of the Clinton administration. The GOP has not held the House for most of the years since 1994 because of a few bounced checks. However, the notion that Republican majorities in Congress reflect public support for the GOP agenda conflicts with their narrative, so Ornstein and Mann play dumb about all of this.
Ornstein and Mann then move on to the supposed intransigence of the GOP during the Obama administration:
On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on climate change and health-care reform, Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship.
What O&M leave out here is any consideration of whether the Democrats’ legislation on any of these issues was all that popular. They also skip over the fact that Democrats had large majorities in both houses of Congress for the first two years of the Obama administration, even enjoying a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for the period between the election of Al Franken and the death of Ted Kennedy. They further leave out the fact that Obama rejected a Republican suggestions on economic recovery with the in-your-face declaration “I Won” on his third day in office, and made a priority of cutting a campaign ad against the lone Republican who voted for Obamacare in the House. And O&M fail to acknowledge that it was Obama who torpedoed a bigger deal during negotiations over the debt ceiling, after the allegedly intransigent-on-taxes GOP leaders signaled willingness to accept $800 billion in revenue measures.
They also complain about the escalating use of the filibuster. They overlook the argument that the filibuster can be a way to promote compromise. They also overlook Ornstein’s past enthusiasm for the filibuster, coincidentally enough when Republicans were threatening the so-called “nuclear option” to end Democratic filibusters.
Ornstein and Mann then jump back in time again:
No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking.
Moving past the hilarious understatement of Bush Derangement Syndrome we all endured for eight years, what are Ornstein and Mann actually suggesting here? If their thesis is that the GOP has pursued a radical policy agenda, did Dems go along with these measures solely out of some moral obligation to bipartisanship? Or might it be that the GOP agenda is not as extreme as Ornstein and Mann suggest? Occam’s Razor suggests politicians tend to vote based on what will keep themselves in office, or in the case of unpopular measures based on what they judge to be truly in the national interest. In Ornstein’s and Mann’s world, when Dems vote for a Bush administration bill, it is solely Democratic noblesse oblige, as though the Bush administration allowed no input from the Ted Kennedys of the world on NCLB.
Ornstein and Mann trot out complaints about the GOP from people like former senator Chuck Hagel, but fail to note the complaint from former Senator Evan Bayh, made after Scott Brown’s Senate victory in the deep blue state of Massachusetts: “Whenever you have just the furthest left elements in the Democratic Party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country, that’s not going to work too well.”
Shortly before Rep. West went off the rails with his accusations of communism in the Democratic Party, political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP.
For dudes bent on calling the GOP anti-science, you would think Ornstein and Mann would not only know, but also note that the use of the Poole-Rosenthal data to make these sort of claims is, er, not without controversy among political scientists. You would be wrong.
On a roll, Ornstein and Mann get egregious with this one:
In the House, some of the remaining centrist and conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats have been targeted for extinction by redistricting, while even ardent tea party Republicans, such as freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee (Miss.), have faced primary challenges from the right for being too accommodationist.
O&M really hope you do not click on the link they provided, which reports:
On Tuesday Reps. Jason Altmire and Tim Holden, members of the moderate-to-conservative caucus of Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition, lost their primary battles to more liberal opponents who painted their centrism as apostasies that could no longer be tolerated.
These were the latest blows delivered to the Blue Dogs, whose membership ranks have been decimated the last two years by a perfect political storm that has driven the House Democratic caucus farther to the left than at any time in the last decade.
It’s increasingly unclear whether Democrats can ever reclaim the House majority unless they pick up ground in the conservative-leaning terrain that the Blue Dogs once represented. In addition, with so few moderates left, there are fewer House members in the political center to create the sort of bipartisan coalition that in the past has provided the bulwark of support for budget compromises.
In other words, Democratic moderates are “targeted for extinction” by Democrats (especially Big Labor), in the same way they accuse the right of doing to GOP officeholders. To be sure, The GOP has its Jeffordses, Specters and Snowes, but the switches of the Gramms and Shelbys and the departures of Democrats like Bayh and Ben Nelson, not to mention the primary defeat of Joe Lieberman by the left-wing “netroots,” demonstrates this is a bipartisan phenomenon.
Ornstein and Mann’s highly selective reading of history all builds to this:
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?
Urging the press to be unfair and suggesting Republicans are hostage-takers is their recipe for bringing moderation bipartisanship into our political sphere. Extremism is the defense of center-left establishmentarianism is no vice!
What could possibly go wrong?