Stop Blaming Dysfunction on "Both Sides"

For years, liberals have argued that polarization his little to do with the Democratic Party—which they see as largely centrist—and everything to do with a Republican Party, which has moved far to the right since the 1970s. Recent research from political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have measured polarization and ideological shifts in Congress, confirms that theory. According to NPR, they’ve found that the GOP is more conservative now than it’s been in a century:

The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest to the right that they’ve been in 100 years.

Moreover, Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have to the left, and that goes a long way toward explaining the gridlock of the last three years, during which time Republicans have refused to play ball on everything from economic recovery—they opposed the stimulus plan, even after signing on to George W. Bush’s plan for boosting the economy in 2008—to financial regulation and a health-care-reform bill built on conservative ideas.

Unfortunately, even after noting that ideological polarization is assymmetric, both NPR and Poole refuse to move away from a “pox on both houses” frame for the story:

"[T]here doesn’t seem to be much impetus on the part of the leadership of either political party to really do something serious about our budget crisis. I doubt very seriously we’ll see much improvement.

"People forget how utterly irresponsible our political leadership has been for the last 30 years…The current political class of the U.S. just isn’t in the same league as Truman and Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. You just don’t have that kind of leadership now, just when we need it.

This is a fashionable sentiment—you’ll hear it on cable news and in newspaper op-ed sections—but it has no basis in reality. For two years, President Barack Obama struggled to build a biparisan consensus around deficit reduction. The Affordable Care Act was built on conservative ideas, and pitched as a move toward fiscal sustainability. Independent projections bear that out—over the next decade, it’s projected to reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion, making it the largest deficit-reduction package since 1993, when Democrats under Bill Clinton passed a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that began to bring the budget into balance.

In 2010, Republican opposition to tax hikes led Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts over liberals' objections, and last year, Obama—with the support of top Democrats—tried desperately to reach a “grand bargain” over deficit reduction with House Maority Leader John Boehner and the rest of the Republican leadership. But GOP opposition to tax increases—Boehner refused to trade Medicare cuts for tax increases on the wealthy—meant that these talks were bound to fail.

The Democratic Party isn’t perfect—or even particularly good—but it’s unfair to say that the United States has “irresponsible” political leadership, or that the political class is lacking as a whole. Over the last three years, Democrats have passed bills to achieve universal health coverage, reform the financial sector, bring carbon emissions under control, and save the economy from a second Great Depression. Deficits have receded to the background, but it remains true that only Democrats have been behind partisan deficit reduction—in 1993 and 2010.

If there’s a problem in American politics, it’s the Republican Party, whose theological devotion to to tax cuts and “small government” has destroyed our finances—both Reagan and George W. Bush were responsible for huge explosions of debt—and made bipartisan cooperation impossible. Our government is dysfunctional, but the pox isn’t on both houses, and the media’s quest to ignore that fact has only exacerbated the problem.


So what you are REALLY saying is that the LANDSLIDE victory by the GOP in the 2010 elections, which was actually a restraining order on Obama's policies after the massive overreach and distasteful way Obamacare was jammed through Congress is to blame. Well, guess what? "Elections have their consequences". REMEMBER? So basically you are blaming this on the American people. Good job.

Why do Republicans seem to forget the Democratic landslides of 2006 and 2008? You are right that elections have consequences. Yet somehow, you think the GOP is resolved of their mismanagement of the country not too long ago.

Elections DO have consequences. Spare me the "blaming this on the American people" garbage. The GOP doesn't respect the results of elections beyond their own victories and haven't been legislating in good faith for a generation.

Check out, and share, this new fact checking website:

New Yawker has already addessed one key issue, the 2010 election, which the writer apparently believes meant little to nothing. Another key issue is the first two years of Obama, during which he abrasively dismissed Republicans and their ideas. Again, his famous comment, "Elections have consequences." Obamacare had GOP votes. Same for the Stimulus Bill. It is very hard for the GOP to be responsible for gridlock and polarization when the Dems had 60 Senators and an overwhelming majority in the House. You do understand that, don't you Dear Jamelle? So my questions for you. Are you really as stupid as your column indicates, or are so partisan that the actual facts simply make no difference to you?

The problem with this analogy is two things: In the 2010 elections Democrats stayed home and didn't vote causing a virtual landslide for the Republicans. One reason for this was the bickering among the Democrats themselves over what went into the bill that became the ACA. Lieberman went out of his way to say he would filibuster any attempt to open Medicare to people 55 years of age or older.

With the Democrats needing 60 votes and a few of their own members of the party needing to cater to large pharmaceutical donors, it is no wonder what they passed is as unpopular with the left as with the right.

New Yawker has already addessed one key issue, the 2010 election, which the writer apparently believes meant little to nothing. Another key issue is the first two years of Obama, during which he abrasively dismissed Republicans and their ideas. Again, his famous comment, "Elections have consequences." Obamacare had GOP votes. Same for the Stimulus Bill. It is very hard for the GOP to be responsible for gridlock and polarization when the Dems had 60 Senators and an overwhelming majority in the House. You do understand that, don't you Dear Jamelle? So my questions for you. Are you really as stupid as your column indicates, or are so partisan that the actual facts simply make no difference to you?

That's pretty much all garbage. Obama didn't "abrasively dismiss" GOP ideas...not even close. In fact he OPENLY welcomed them and the Democratic congress (which as you noted..needed nothing from the GOP if they wanted to be jerks about it), invited and involved the GOP in nearly every step of the process. Zero GOP votes? LOL...they didn't vote for it because it would've been a "political victory" for Obama...had nothing to do with them disagreeing on substance to any significant degree. Do you get that dear BurkeVA? Even the snotty tone of your comment serves to illustrate the tantrum that Conservatives throw when their ideas and policies are challenged AT ALL. Get America (and in a democratic society), compromise is a necessity.

This would be a good argument except that for two years, the Democrats controlled everything. I do believe that health care reform proved there was just as much and even more dysfunction then. Can't blame Republicans for 2009-2011.

It would also make sense except that Obama controls the White House and Dems control the Senate. It's really hard to make the argument that the party that controls two thirds of our levers isn't responsible and the party that only controls the other third is responsible.

I'm thinking this article is a bit more of wishful thinking rather than actual analysis.

I really don't think that argument is accurate. Even when the Democrats had overwhelming majorities, the GOP filibustered EVERYTHING effectively making 60 votes necessary to pass anything. The Democratic party is a diverse party and we generally don't expect all of our members to get in lock-step on all issues so even when we had that majority, getting 60 votes was extremely difficult. In addition, the 60 vote majority was broken on February 4, 2010 when Scott Brown assumed office. This means that the GOP could just clog up the pipes and not let anything through. Our political system is designed to make clogging up the pipes much easier than getting stuff done. The GOP has a natural advantage in that they benefit from the government not only doing very little, but also in being despised by the public.

That's right! Blame those dastardly Republicans for all the division in the country. You know, those guys who have held 1/2 of 1/3 of the seats of government power. Those evil GOPers who, when someone says "boo", they go scampering for cover for having offended someone.

Meanwhile, let's see . . . the president has vilified Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Banks and Wall Street. He has supported the Occupy revolutionaries against working people. He has stirred up racial resentment and animosity. He has pitted the haves against the have-nots, the people of color against whites and Asians (the people who produce), "progressive" women against worthless stay-at-home moms, the secular anti-Christians against the Church, the Occupiers against the Tea Baggers (his word), blacks against stupid police, and on and on. Find a group who does not agree with him, and they are bagged and tagged as ignorant racists who cling to their God and their guns.

Meanwhile, the pervasive media and culture from New York to Hollywood provide his megaphone to repeat his divisive hateful rhetoric as truth while never ever daring to point out the falsity of his claims or question is it a good idea to foment such anger and hate in the population.

Yep, for sure, I can absolutely see how it is the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner who have pitted Americans against each other.

So this is what passes for legitimate journalism in the Obamanation. Pure propagandist drivel. Do they now give degrees in Water Boy at universities now a days, cause that is exactly what you are?

Could you please substantiate just one of your outlandish claims about the president? Please provide one quotation in which he can be said to vilify Big Oil, Big Pharma etc. Just one. Just one measly piece of evidence. Just this one time. If you can, I promise to stop thinking of all Republicans as dangerous lunatics.

he was a little over the top, but the idea that democrats don't share blame for gridlock is perposterous. If two sides can't agree, they are equally at fault for not having an agreement. Whether that is good or bad is all a matter of perspective. Are democrats to blame for stopping the initiatives of Congressional Republicans? Of course they are. Are Republicans to blame for stopping Obama's or Reid's initiatives? Of course they are.

People need to grow up. It's politics and neither party is more obstructionist that the other.

Even if it's true that the Republicans are more extremely Republican than Democrats are Democratic (I don't even know how you'd measure that reliably), it doesn't really follow that gridlock must be their fault, does it? I imagine that if I'm arguing with someone who starts out reasonable but gets progressively more extreme, it only becomes easier for me to win the argument. If Republicans are as increasingly backwards as this article suggests, why haven't they gone extinct? And if people keep voting for them as they get more extreme, is it the Republicans' fault (as in elected Republicans) or the people's (i.e., voting Republicans)?

Ultimately, I don't buy the supposedly vast ideological divide between the parties as an excuse for gridlock. Parliaments in Europe regularly seat conservatives alongside socialists. And these are real socialists... not people who are called socialists by their enemies, but people who self-identify as socialists. Somehow, they manage to get things done. On a global scale, Republicans and Democrats really aren't all that different. (Auburn fans and Alabama fans love to mock each other, but to the rest of us non-Alabamians, they all look pretty similar. I imagine Democrats and Republicans look similar to the rest of the world.)

The real problem isn't that Republicans are too Republican. It's that one side or another or both are being too stubborn. We could be a centimeter apart ideologically and still get nowhere if we're both stubborn enough. Figuring out who should be less stubborn is obviously a political question, but my point I guess is that it's not as simple as saying whether the left is further to the left than the right is to the right (or vice versa). No matter how far you go to one side or the other, you still have to compromise to get things done. Each party is obviously making its case that the other should be compromising more.

PS-Is "furtherest" really a word?

The gridlock in our system is, indeed, a byproduct of ideological rigidity. It's true that in a parliamentary system, different ideologies work side by side. However, the comparison breaks down because in a true parliamentary system, many different factions must come together to wield power - and ultimately control - of government. In our three-branch, two party system, coalition building is moot, and presidents are elected apart from legislators, rather than being a representative of the legislative coalition. You are correct, though, that stubbornness has caused the current intransigence. It's a disgrace that either party would make its primary goal to be ousting a president. We deserve better, but got what we voted for.

Dear Jamelle,

Thank you for telling me who to blame. Up until now, I had no idea who was responsible. I had always run under the assumption it was the party in power.

"The Democratic party isn't perfect-or even particularly good" ok, you said one thing I can agree with. Beyond that...not so much. So we Republicns are the problem, because we won't cave in and let you Democrats have your way, essentially? Some of us might think that gridlock, where NOTHING is getting accomplished, is a vast improvement over what we saw for the two years when the Democrats controlled Congress AND the White House. And please don't try and convince me the that the party of trillion dollar deficits is the party of fiscal responsibility. Bush ran deficits I did not like(I also didn't like him) but this guys deficits are three times what Bushes were. That makes him three times worse.

Fortunately, this piece is sufficiently incoherent that it will have no effect whatsoever on the subject

LOL! The country elected the most extreme left wing President in U.S. history in 2008, and gave him historic control of Congress with large extreme left wing democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress. So for 2 of the past 3 years Obama was able to do whatever he wanted to do. The Stimulous, Obamacare, Solyndra, More debt than in the entire history of the world. The only problem is his extreme left wing policies didn't work. The nation has been left with record long term UNEMPLOYMENT, Record wasted spending, record growth in the size and cost of Government, and record nation destroying debt. As for Gridlock? The House Republicans have passed a budget 2 years in a row. The Senate Democrats haven't bothered to even produce a budget, and Obama's budget 2 years running has either gotten ZERO democratic votes, or the Senate Democrats haven't even bothered to bring it up for a vote. The nation is suffering from extreme left wing ideology, arrogance, incompetence, and a total failure of Presidential Leadership, and that all comes from Obama. The single worst President in U.S. history!

Jamelle Bouie.... The Baghdad Bob of the Left..... zzzzzzzzz. Funny. Not one person has agreed with him yet....

I have.

In the first two years Odumbo had a majority in both houses. The only thing that stopped him from jamming through this radical left agenda were the Blue Dog Demoncrats. These Blue Dogs were the only "moderate" Demoncrats. They are all gone now. What's left?

You're using logic, you will therefore be attacked with for lacking empathy.

So you think it improves political discourse in this country to call people names? What are you, twelve, thirteen?

Exactly how did the GOP stop the Democrat controlled Senate from ever passing a budget?

And only Karl Marx's far left cousin sees the Obama Administration as "centrist."

The difference between compromise in the past was that the argument was over should the minimum raise be 50 cents or $1 an hour, both parties were going in the same direction.

But now the Democrats want to put sand in my gas tank, whereas I want to put in gas. Is compromise of half gas half sand a good idea, of course not, it may kill my engine slower, but since I know it will kill it, I'd be an idiot to agree to any sand.

So while the Liberals are pouring sand into America's economic engine, proving that Obama will be the Future Historical example of Economic Suicide, keep trying to rewrite history with your "centrist" tripe.

Duh?? How many budgets required under federal law has the US Senate under Democrapic control submitted in the last 3 years?? Exactly 0. That is failed leadership from then Pelosi in year one, and always Reed and Obama in the last three.
Game, set, and match.

Ms Bouie,
I understand that Dems want to legalize drugs, but you might want to think of abstaining ... at least while writing articles.

Let me start by referring you to a well-written article on this same topic called "Where are all the Moderate Democrats ?"

Let me also concede that I would agree that Republicans (of which I am one) have become what the left may consider more fiscally conservative. I'd say the Republicans are perhaps less socially conservative. How much have you really heard from Evangelicals in this or recent elections ? The fiscal shift really comes from the reduced influence of the Neo-Cons who wanted a bigger military and were willing to accept bigger government elsewhere as a cost of this expansion. Don't get me wrong. Republicans are still more war-hungry than I have a taste for. But there is a rise of Libertarianism (e.g. Ron Paul) who recognize that the military is one example of spending that must be reduced. Dems who were used to an open checkbook cry foul.

But Dem's under Obama are likewise A LOT more liberal than they have been in the past. The article I highlighted makes an interesting comparison between Obama and the last standard bearer, Bill Clinton. You can say a lot about Bill personally. But as a President (particularly after the country elected a Repub congress in 1994), he passed the Crime Bill, NAFTA, balanced the budget and declared "the end of big government as we know it".

Can you every imagine Obama uttering those words ? Me neither. He castigates successful people at every turn. He increased government spending 20% from 2008 to 2010 ($2.8 tn to $3.5 tn). He appoints people like Labor Secretary Solis (who praises Hoerta, a member of the Socialists of America as a role model He hasn't passed a budget in four years. His signal achievement, Obamacare, forces Americans to buy insurance and increases spending by $2 tn over 10 yrs. (Yes, they implemented something like Obamacare of Massachusetts. In case you didn't know, Massachusetts is one of the most liberal states in the U.S. Even if you are a liberal, can you honestly say that something that is accepted in the most liberal state would be equally accepted in some place like Texas or Indiana ?)

Bottom line - The U.S. elected Obama because they thought he was a uniter like Bill Clinton. Yes, people will point out that Bill raised taxes about 3%. Sure. I'd be willing to increase taxes as long as it meant real reduction in the size and spending of government ... particularly entitlements. That's compromise. But compromise requires an honest broker who can stand in the middle and bring together both sides. Obama is nothing but a redistributing socialist. (Remember his quote that he wants to "spread the wealth around".) This hardly sounds like an honest broker to me.

Totally pathetic analysis. Why hasn't the senate passed a budget in over 1000 days? Democrats! How many democrat votes did Obama's budget receive? Zero!
You might want to try looking at some facts before you spout off again!

Maybe the Republicans are to the right of the 70's version- but that's largely because the Democrats are far to the left of the Jack Kennedy Democrats. The author does not understand this.

Relatedly, the Tea Party would not exist if the spending had not been out of control for a generation. Both parties are to blame for that spending.

What? Come on was nancy Pelosi and BHO who stated and I paraphrase: "We won the election, we are gonna write the bill" or the ever famous, get in the back seat line. The Democrats have NEVER sought Republican input since BHO got into power. STOP trying to rewrite history. I am a Chicaogan and bi-partisian is NOT something BHO or his ilk engage in.

Pretty much true- the Dems were saying "elections have consequences" and such back in 2009.

Obama posssessed a sizeable and favorable - if not downright lapdog - majority in both houses of Congress from 2009-2011, with which he pushed through the least-wanted piece of legislation in a century. How did he lose that? Republicans appeared to be dead in the water, if not on the way to extinction. Then, somehow, they were utterly resurrected as a national force within 2 years, even though their popularity remains abysmal, and without a clear leader on top of it. Blaming Republicans, who didn't have a political pot to p*** in as of January 2009, requires a willful ignorance that is, quite frankly, breathtaking.

It's hard to imagine some actually writing an article like this and actually taking it seriously.

At first I thought it was going to have a punch line...but then I saw the author's photo...quelle suprise!

Please explain - I'm not sure what you mean by this. His photo suggests what exactly? There must be some shorthand here that your buddies get but I don't...

This guy's article is so rife with good material: "whose theological devotion to to tax cuts and “small government” has destroyed our finances—"

Obama average annual budget deficit $1.35 Trillion.

Obama's annual Spending is curiously up that amount?

Wouldn't therefore Obama's devotion to Gov't spending on non-return on investment items be a far greater impact on our financial ruin than existing tax policy?

It is capitalism vs socialism.
Of cousre they won't get along, and never will.

I stand with capitalism.

So where are these socialists you are pitting capitalists against? I think the last socialist in America was maybe Eugene Debs. Or do you brand as socialist anyone who even suggests that maybe sometimes capitalism needs to be restrained? Are food and drug laws socialist? Are child labor laws socialist? Are minimum wage laws socialist? Are taxes socialist? Are laws against fraud socialist?

Just took a look at the bio, and saw that Jamelle is a "writing fellow" at the Prospect. If I were one of the editors, this article would disqualify Mr. Bouie from any further submissions. It is totally senseless.

Here's what the Poole and Rosenthal data actually show: the Democrats began their trek left in the late 1950s, Republicans were moving toward the center from 1954-1976 as Democrats moved left. Republicans started moving right in 1976. Since 1980 Democrats have moved left at a slower pace than the GOP has moved right. But Democrats had a 25 year head start.

Wrong! Republicans started moving right in the 60's when they decided to begin their Southern strategy against the Democratic Party for embracing Blacks and other minorities. By the 70's the Party had begun to trend far right with the emergence of Nixon and then your lord of the flies, Reagan. It was the greatest flip-flop of all times from one Party to the other, a change of party because of ideology over the rights of minorities, that spurred the white right to become what they are now, racially divisive, ecomony-savagers, and warriors for the rich and wealthy. The Nation can thank the minorities and poor for the the Party that the right has become, because if they had not wanted their rights, then the right would not have turned so rigidly wrong.

What bunk, this piece. To accept its premise, one need either accept that Obama is an emasculated wanderer incapable of leading, or, well, a community organizer who is the epitome of the Peter Principle, having attained his natural level of incompetence.

The man entered office with heavy majorities in both Houses of Congress, and managed to get through practically everything he proposed. And it hasn't worked, and now he and his apologists are looking to blame anyone but himself and the policies. Point is, leaders lead. Had he been of the same caliber of a Reagan, for instance, he would have simply gone over the head of his opposition, neutralized them, sold his program to the people, and it would be working.

That's if he was a leader. But he's not, and never was. Community organizers are the guys who stand on the street corner, tell you who's to blame for your problems, and do absolutely nothing to solve them. Kind of what we have now. But, all this presumes the policies are the correct ones in the first place. What Reagan demonstrated was that you don't need much time to right a sick economy, provided your policies are the right ones. Within two years, the economy was roaring back with almost 7% growth rates, and he was reelected with 49 states.

But it's kind of funny, in that once Reagan took his oath of office, you never once heard the name Jimmy Carter from him, either in blaming him for the hurdle he had to surmount, or for the depth of the problems the new president had to face. That's another thing about real leaders. They take ownership for their stewardship, as opposed to blaming everyone and anyone but themselves.

Bravo, now this is writing

Thanks for the kind comment. Unfortunate though isn't it, that with Fearless Leader, the criticism kind of writes itself.

Bravo, pure bunk. Like a lot of delusional Republicans, some posters on this thread must be taking "How to Perfectly Tell Lies and Keep a Straight Face" classes from Mitt Romney. The only criticism that seems to "write" itself are the distortions and lies which the Right seems to wrap themselves up in concerning this President, on a minute-by-minute bases. Go at it, because all the lies and distortions does is ensure that his BASE turns out to vote in November. Sans all of your lies, what would you folks do? I guess we will never know since the game of "Lie for Mittens" will most definitely be over by then, with the Republicans as the apparent game losers.

Keith Poole and Howard bastions of non-liberal moderations. Why is it that when anyone disagrees with a liberal that that person or group is being unreasonable and polarizing? Now sure how far the republicans have moved to the right in the last 30 years but the signature policies of this administration are extreme left and no room for compromise. These radical departures from previous democratic and republican administrations include health care, energy policy, environmental policy, explosive size of government , etc. Who are you trying to fool by blaming the radical republicans for seeing great danger in the radical democratic It would appear however that both the republicans and democrats agree on two things: (1) they both talk about deficit reduction and (2) no one is doing ANYTHING about it. Not exactly the two things I hoped they would agree on.

Soon as I saw the claim that Democrats "are largely centrist", there was no point in reading
further as I knew what would be said. Blaming the Republicans for stopping Obama's agenda is
really funny. They were elected in 2010 precisely to stop the insanity and his march through
$$$$trillions in debt. Brakes were put on cap and trade which would have made
energy prices skyrocket even higher, his Job Act (stimulus 2) which would have turned over
another half a trillion in borrowed money to Obama's special interests, and his profligate
mindless spending on ever expanding regulations. If the country had wanted more of Obama's
failed agenda, it would have returned the gavel to Nancy Pelosi. Why is it dysfunctional for
Republicans not to cave to Obama's misguided, job-killing policies? It's more dysfunctional to
let them go unchecked.

UM, Who has been in power for the last 7 years? And 3 of those having a democrat Senate, Congress and President? How can it be that we have no budget for over 1000 days? Why is it that there are 23 bills sitting on the shelf from Congress because the Sentate leader (who is he again?) will not briong them up to a debate? Obama and the leftist senate have an agenda thaty is anti america and anti american. You are just a shill and this article is the best expose of how far up the liberal ass the media is.

The President submitted a budget that the House voted down, 414-0. It was not serious.
The Republican House passed a budget 228-191. Party lines, but serious enough that members had to stand on one side or the other.
The Democrats refuse to allow a vote on a budget in the Senate. They are not serious.
The budget is the most basic tool for governing. Dems aren't serious about it. That's a good indication of where the dysfunction lies. Intentional dysfunction.

The comments on this thread are humorous. Listen Republicans, please STOP stating that the President did not get any Democrat votes on his budget, that is unless you TRUTHFULLY state why. No Democrats voted FOR that budget because the President ceded too many provisions of the legislation to the Republicans. It was not because they were at war with the President, but more so because as usual, the President was trying to be bi-partisan and pass a bill that would have given BOTH sides a little of what they wanted. But as usual, the Republicans wanted everything their way, so the Democrats HIT the highway, refusing to vote for a budget that would have cut and lashed many of the services for the poor and needy. It makes me so sick when I read or hear Republicans lamenting their talking point about the President's not receiving any Democratic votes on that budget....and now you folks know why.

Yeah right. Not one Democratic house member would side with the president on a compromise budget. That sounds right... I hope you don't honestly believe that. If you did, it would respresent a total lack of leadership from Obama and in a parliamentary system, would amount to a vote of no-confidence that would have him removed.


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