Voters need to say ‘no’ to obstructionTwo of the most sage politics watchers of our time are congressional scholars Norm Ornstein of the (mainly conservative) American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the (more Democratic than not) Brookings Institution. Together they’ve written and just released a book called “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” It is about our broken, dysfunctional, nonfunctioning partisan political system.
By: Bonnie Erbe, The Dickinson Press
Two of the most sage politics watchers of our time are congressional scholars Norm Ornstein of the (mainly conservative) American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the (more Democratic than not) Brookings Institution. Together they’ve written and just released a book called “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” It is about our broken, dysfunctional, nonfunctioning partisan political system.
I look at many things going on in the political sphere and cannot believe what I am seeing. It’s unprecedented in American political history for partisans to put grandstanding before love of country. They cost this great nation so much in the process. If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, check, for example, our loss of triple A credit rating due to last year’s congressional budget haggling.
I also cannot believe the Tea Party movement is thriving and poised to take over even more seats in Congress. If that happens and you’re one who happens to be sick of the deadlock, get ready for a heap more. There is simply no rational reason why even the conservative state of Indiana should give a statesman like Republican Sen. Richard Lugar a hard time in his re-election bid. He lost the primary race to a Tea Party candidate.
We are re-examining issues settled decades ago (to wit, access to birth control) and heading straight back in time. We’re not moving forward, we’re pedal- to- the- metal in reverse.
Ornstein and Mann see America’s two main political parties as having given up traditions of compromise, endangering America’s constitutional democracy. As one review noted, “one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime.”
The two authors blame two factors for pushing the now dis-United States America to, as they see it, the brink or collapse. (Geez, is there a second civil war in our future?)
The first factor is the serious mismatch between the Democrats and the Republicans. Politics watchers are used to seeing nasty discourse in parliamentary democracies. But our governing system, unlike parliamentary democracies where minority parties can bond on one issue and control a majority, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to coalesce. That has caused the bottleneck and halted progress in Congress.
The second factor is what Ornstein and Mann call “asymmetric polarization,” or strident, implacable Republicans — influenced by the Tea Party’s extreme positions — refusing to allow passage of any legislation that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost.
Agreed. However, I certainly don’t see the Democrats as blameless in this situation. They have taken little notice of the deficit and their romance with ever-higher taxes is disheartening.
Mann and Ornstein offer solutions in the book. They suggest greater public participation in politics and at the voting booth would help. I am not so sure of that, as it could lead to a deeper political divide. They also suggest that institutional restructuring of the House and Senate could prevent minorities from tyrannizing.
Above all, they want the media and the American public to focus on why we have reached this juncture of dysfunction rather than blaming individual politicians for not being extreme enough on either end of the spectrum.
I believe a more educated electorate is needed, because well-educated voters are less likely to support extremist positions. And the problem is not with Congress or the White House so much as it is with the voters who support extremist candidates. Government is encumbered by extremism and not by realists who may have strong values, but who recognize that politics is the art of compromise.
When and if voters learn to think strategically and reward problem solving, the American impasse might end. If they punish rather than reward obstruction, the blood of American democracy might start flowing once more.
Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.
Email her at email@example.com.