American Enterprise Institute And Brookings Must-Read: ‘The Republicans Are The Problem’

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann tell the media “a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.”

Two leading political scholars — representing the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the centrist Brookings Institution — have published a must-read article, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”

I’ll excerpt the piece by Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann at length for two reasons. First, the problem they describe in detail is the central reason the United States failed to act on climate change when it had the chance in 2009 and 2010, and the central reason this country is poised to abandon any hope of maintaining  leadership in what will certainly be the biggest job creating sector of this century — low-carbon technologies and strategies. Until it is fixed

Second, they issue some advice to the media on the dangers of false balance in a world where there isn’t actually balance between the two “sides.”

The article opens:

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting 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 noat that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

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.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

Yes, false balance is “simply untenable” these days, when one side is so “far out.” This, of course, is  especially true in the case of the climate debate:

The authors offer some specific advice to the media:

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.

The article has much more to say about how the Republican Party at the national level has veered sharply to the extreme and how the Democrats have become “more of a status-quo party”:

Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology. In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth — thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge — while ignoring contrary considerations.

The results can border on the absurd: In early 2009, several of the eight Republican co-sponsors of a bipartisan health-care reform plan dropped their support; by early 2010, the others had turned on their own proposal so that there would be zero GOP backing for any bill that came within a mile of Obama’s reform initiative. As one co-sponsor, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein: “I liked it because it was bipartisan. I wouldn’t have voted for it.”

And seven Republican co-sponsors of a Senate resolution to create a debt-reduction panel voted in January 2010 against their own resolution, solely to keep it from getting to the 60-vote threshold Republicans demanded and thus denying the president a seeming victory.

This attitude filters down far deeper than the party leadership. Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock.

Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.


But again, the authors are clear on who is to blame for the gridlock that threatens to ruin the health and well-being of future generations:

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade.

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. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices.

But while more and more people are recognizing the reality of the Tea Party driven extremism that has captured an entire political party, the  prognosis in the near term isn’t very good

Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished diatribe last year about why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly three decades. “The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe,” he wrote on the Truthout Web site.

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.

If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.

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. And Mitt Romney’s rhetoric and positions offer no indication that he would govern differently if his party captures the White House and both chambers of Congress.

While the authors put some of the blame on the media, they end by saying:

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.

The only things missing in the piece is the role of money in politics and a downplaying of the role of the conservative media in stoking the extremism. But as a short diagnosis of what ails U.S. politics, it is one of the best recent pieces, particularly considering the credibility the authors.

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25 Responses to American Enterprise Institute And Brookings Must-Read: ‘The Republicans Are The Problem’

  1. Sarsaparilla says:

    Amazing article Joe, totally on target. You correct that the rise of twisted News Corp. & other media have played a massive part in bringing the far right propaganda to the citizenry so that this all seems okay (alternate reality) and these nuts have legitimacy.

    Nice to see this being called out for whatever good it does. Eventually the GOP will get to far right and crash – but with the support of coordinated daily propaganda news outlets (Fox News, Wall Street Journal -News Corp.) a lot of damage will be done before that limit is reached.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks to Ornstein and Mann for speaking out here. It could not have been easy for them.

    The GOP has always had its loony tune sector, including cartoon character Joe McCarthy and Barry Goldwater, who wanted to give generals field control of nuclear weapons. I’m glad to see actual conservatives confronting them.

    The difference this time around is that the fossil fuel company owners are not nearly this radical themselves, but will use their money to hire deranged faux populist puppets to do their bidding. Goldwater and McCarthy were more grassroots.

    The extremists on the right have not been confronted by the Democrats, either, who are way too polite, and appear to be intimidated by some very dangerous people. We need hell raisers to call them out, and can’t just depend on Bernie Sanders. Obama’s instinct to be civil and seek compromise was a major tactical error. Let’s hope he finds his voice, and turns his back on the Democrats’ own skeletons, including the banksters.

  3. pattyp says:

    This isn’t an Onion article or late April Fool’s joke? Will I get Rickrolled if I click on any of the embedded links? I just can’t believe AEI especially is saying all this.

  4. squidboy6 says:

    The republicans pull these stunts then try to claim, as Romney has repeatedly, that it’s Obama’s fault that the economy is bad or gas prices are high and it’s “all Obama’s fault”.

    The only thing is there are enough idiots that believe it, or just don’t care about the rest of us. Then there’s plain old racism which I’ve seen in the South and the language used just barely couches the intent.

    The racism can backfire on Romney since Southerners don’t like Mormons any more than they like people of another color or background, but the House and Senate are going to have to be changed in order to progress from the quagmire.

    The Tea Party is a creation of the Koch Brothers and their ilk. Murdoch’s empire may be crumbling as well but it won’t go easy nor fast enough. This is a good start! Thanks!

  5. climatehawk1 says:

    IMHO, Ornstein has long been an outlier at AEI. I’m not sure what explains his presence there, but I’ll bet it is a fascinating story. Anyway, he remains a credible voice at an increasingly incredible organization.

  6. james corbett says:


    This is the single most important political article ever read, and it was co-authored by an American Enterprise Institute scholar. The AEI has long been the refuge of far right apologists to reactionary extremism, but this article affirms that the AEI is more than that. It may seem odd to give credit to them for calling a “dog” a “dog,” but they are the first sign of rationality among mainstream Republicans who know that the Tea Party and other wingnuts are damaging the Republican brand and threaten to either kill the Party or so impede government action on needed issues that they damage the country. It takes a while, but there is a glimmer of truth starting to peek out from behind the “No” machine that controls most Republican lawmakers.

  7. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Yet we still keep electing the wing nuts.

  8. EDpeak says:

    Just so that no one gets the impression that AEI is anything other than shamefully untruthful and awful on many issues including climate, this little reminder:

    “Scientists and economists have been offered 10,000 dollars each by a lobby group funded by one of the world’s largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

    “Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

    “Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.”

    …”The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI’s board of trustees.”

    one could go on. Whether one is looking at the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, or Competitive Enterprise Institute, they are just different shades of morally monstrous (see above quotes) behavior. And this letter does not change the fundamental nature of AEI and what it is and stands for.

    Never forget that.

  9. James Cole says:

    Why do we call republicans “More Conservative”?
    Conservative? You must be joking. They act like radical lunatics and we call them conservatives? A conservative by nature is pretty rational but tending to cling to established practices and beliefs. The modern republican party is out in lunatic land, and they are anything but conservative. They are radical right wing extremists. They deny rational thought, deny rational argument and deny science whenever it fails to meet their radical right wing agenda.
    Call them anything you like. But cease to call them conservative!

  10. The Wonderer says:

    Just so nobody gets the idea that WaPo follows the advice in this article, the “even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views” also in Sunday’s paper from AEI’s Jonah Goldberg.

  11. T.J. says:

    What you need to recognize is that in America, being an incredibly exploitative greedy narcissist is the conservative tradition. Exploiting everything as much as possible and to hell with the consequences is what brought about our “prosperity” and the motivator that brought millions of immigrants in the early days. The opportunity to exploit large tracks of “unclaimed” nearly free land without interference.

  12. In the UK we currently have a problem with what I call ‘recessionary slumber’ where our commentators promote unworkable political or fiscal solutions that appear positive but in fact talk down the economy and prolong the slump, I certainly don’t think you would do this in the US.

  13. D Layman says:

    As Rudyard Kipling said:

    On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

  14. colinc says:

    Aye, there’s the rub! An astute and succinct statement that aims at the crux of THE problem. A problem I dare say that has little hope of being “solved” since it seems this “American exceptionalism” is now a global contagion. Bursting financial bubbles, global warming, increased poisoning of the air/food/soil/water, peak oil/coal, these are all merely symptoms and addressing any or all of them in an isolated, segregated manner will only serve, at best, to minutely delay the inevitable.

  15. Joe Bickner says:

    We need to post this everywhere we can!

  16. Paul Magnus says:

    And of course there are racist undertones in the overall all out obstructive path the GOP has taken when dealing with Obama. One wonders if it would have been so complete if there was a white democratic president instead?

  17. BillD says:

    Right now in Indiana, the tea party candidate is running ads saying that Senator Richard Lugar has become a liberal in the years since he went to Washington. The reality, that should be obvious to everyone, is that Lugar has been very consistent but the Indiana tea party and their out-of-state money bags have moved to the radical right. Lugar is attacked for voting for any bills offered by the Democrats. The fact that very conservative Republicans in “safe” states and districts can be attacked by the Radical Right in primaries is the real reason for lack of bipartisanism. I guess that it can’t end until they start loosing elections in very conservative disticts and states. Lugar is way too conservative for me, although his contributions to nuclear weapons control have been impressive. But being represented by a tea party senator would be disgusting.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Before that happens, your society, and mine (also dominated by the same type pf pathocrat)will collapse. The pips are squeaking, and the collapse will soon become an avalanche. Too much inequality, leading to too much debt incurred to finance too much consumption, all cobbled together for years by too much too cheap money funneled into the economy to give the semblance of growth and progress. Greenspan and Bernanke didn’t take away the punchbowl when the party got rowdy-they filled it to overflowing and kept the tap running, and continue to do so. The only way out, to radically lessen inequality, is verboten, utterly forbidden by the ruling elite, too struck with cosmic hubris to see that they are hurrying their own, and everybody else’s, destruction.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    One of the prime reasons for the Right’s march to the deranged and self-destructive far Right, is the treachery of the social democrats and the Democrats in the USA. They adopted the lunatic nostrums of neo-liberalism, while attempting to ameliorate its social savagery and regression. They introduced policies that real Leftists would never have countenanced, and refused to reverse the worst insanities of Reaganism and Thatcherism and their clones. They refused to defend working people as jobs were outsourced, off-shored and downsized and wages and conditions were slashed. They facilitated the destruction of social welfare and public education, they sat on their hands or actively abetted the larcenous depredations of the financial griftocracy, and their leaders retired to rich rewards for services loyally rendered. In return the Right moved further Right, and the MSM, led by Murdoch, became a simply crude and horrifically effective brainwashing apparatus. Result-we are well stuffed, and as we saw in Australia with Rudd, and you can see with Obama, there is no hope wishing for change from the lesser evil.

  20. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe wrote: “The only things missing in the piece is the role of money in politics and a downplaying of the role of the conservative media in stoking the extremism.”

    In other words, the “only things missing” from the article are the two most important factors in making the Republican Party what it is today.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I just watched a documentary on Sarah Palin by Channel 4 in the UK, which, by interviewing numerous former close advisors and confidants, and numerous victims of her behaviour, painted a pretty grim picture of a person riven by paranoia, fear and visceral hatreds. Her pursuit of her ex-brother-in-law was really pathological. Her relentless casting aside of people as fall-guys to cover her errors was quite unbelievable. Yet she smiles and treats you real nice, and the lumpen Tea Party Mad Hatters just love her, as does Rupert Murdoch. who gave her ten million dollars for services rendered. We have numerous Palin clones on the Right here, and the Liberal Party has had apparatchiki studying techniques with the Republicans for years, hence the growth in ‘dog-whisting’ racist campaigns over recent years, and all in total cahoots with the Murdoch pathocracy. It’s just the more hate-filled, violent, greedy, paranoid detritus of society getting together to play their favourite game-making the lives of those otherwise inclined as miserable as possible.

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They are morally insane, part of the psychosis being the deranged belief that they are, in fact, moral exemplars. Can you imagine what Jesus of Nazareth would have made of them, or Francis of Assisi?

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Land ‘unclaimed’ because tens of millions had been exterminated to make it free for the infant Empire to seize, then ruthlessly and destructively exploit.

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Cameron and Osbourne need no assistance in deepening the UK depression. It is deliberate policy, ‘Disaster capitalism’ that allows the bully boys of the Right the opportunity to destroy the NHS, eviscerate social welfare, reduce taxes on the rich and transfer even more wealth from the many to the few. In other words the Right’s perennial, never-changing, agenda.

  25. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘The wages of Sin is Death-but the Hours are Good’.