Non-Partisans Finally Agree With What Partisans Have Been Saying

The most talked-about op-ed over the weekend was "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem," a piece in The Washington Post by DC eminence grises Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. They're both not only deeply respected but known as non-partisan Congress-watchers (Ornstein even works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute), which is why the piece will get more attention. But should that matter? Either they're right or they're wrong, and the fact that they are who they are ought not make any difference. And if you look at their argument, it's nothing that you couldn't have found in magazines like The Prospect and a hundred other places many times over the past two years. I feel like I've written versions of Mann and Ornstein's piece a dozen times myself (see here, or here, or here). Mann and Ornstein's reputations do make it harder for Republicans to dismiss them as just liberal partisans, but that doesn't mean they're going to have some kind of seriously difficult time spinning their way out of questions raised in response to the op-ed. In any case, here's the core of their argument:

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.

You noticed, did you?

When Republicans started down this course in earnest upon Barack Obama's inauguration, they made a number of simultaneous calculations. They calculated whether a strategy of rock-solid opposition to just about everything Obama wanted to do was likely to achieve their policy goals, and their political goals. And they also calculated that the price they'd pay for being obstinate and obstructionist was relatively small. The average American would think that "Washington" was screwed up and put most of the blame on the guy at the top, which is what usually happens. And to a large degree, they were right.

Mann and Ornstein end with a plea to the media to start reporting more honestly on what's going on in Washington in general and in Congress in particular—to dispense with the false equivalence that treats both parties as equally guilty of whatever bad behavior anyone is demonstrating, to stop treating the abuse of filibusters an anonymous holds in the Senate as if that's just how the system works, and so on. Good advice, without question. And I'm quite sure that many if not most journalists in Washington have understood all the points Mann and Ornstein make for some time. Maybe they'll start to feel like they have permission to say it, and let their reporting better reflect reality.

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