Burning Down the House (and the Senate Too)

“Wanna go steady and hunt commies together?”

One of my favorite war flicks is Patton and as portrayed by George C. Scott in an Oscar-winning performance, the old “blood n’ guts” general was tough, ruthless, focused like a laser beam on crushing his enemies and showing up his rivals.   The fact that he was egotistical, vain, and maybe a borderline sociopath doesn’t deflect from George S. Patton’s brilliance as a military leader.

I can’t imagine Patton being effective in anything less than wartime conditions.  What works on the battlefield would be disastrous anywhere else and particularly the “no retreat, no surrender” hardline stance.  This is why the Republican Party’s “take no prisoners and make no compromises” view of how politics should be played seems to be no Republican son-of-a-bitch can win by treating the Democratic son-of-a-bitch as an enemy to be obliterated.   Even though politics is said to be war without bloodshed, without the possibility of compromise it becomes every bit as brutal as war.

Two intellectuals, Thomas Mann and Norman J. Orenstein penned a very popular column for The Washington Post (which you might want to read before proceeding) and their central premise is our government is broken and if Republicans didn’t break it, they are vested in keeping it broken.

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 not 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.

An endangered species meets the president

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The essay (which has been “liked” and shared over 100,000 times on Facebook, tweeted more than 2,400 times and received up to 5000 replies before the WaPo website stopped counting) is taken from the authors book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. The popularity of the piece probably will sell a few more copies than a book with a clunky title normally would.

The idea that Washington has become a place where not much get done isn’t a new one. Post columnist Dana Milbank points out the House of Representatives has been in session only 41 out of 127 days in 2012 and will be on vacation for 17 of the remaining 34 weeks. On the rare occasions the House members are in town it’s only for three days.

Nice work if you want to call that work (to be fair, Milbank notes that over in the Democratic-run Senate…of the 87 votes, the majority were on just three bills: 25 on the highway bill, 16 on the postal bill and 13 on an insider-trading bill. Sixteen others were on confirmations.

What’s the problem with a Congress where nothing much gets done because one party considers “compromise” a dirty word (I see you over there Don)? If the GOP is successful in taking back the Senate and holding on to the House this fall you can bet you’ll see a lot more legislation than the 106 passed so far by the 112th Congress.

Even if President Obama wins reelection, if he finds he’s going to have to send congratulations to Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell he’s going to go through a lot of veto pens and Rolaids.

Even if you think a dysfunctional Congress that can’t pass anything but the most inoffensive and menial bills where its members regard the other side not simply as wrong on issues, but un-American isn’t a bad thing, there is no reason for anyone but the most blindly partisan to even run for office.

Why bother if you are a Democrat, you can’t reach across the aisle to your Republican colleague when he or she believes they were sent to Congress to spit in that hand. Allen West, whom Mann and Ornstein name-check has called his own Congressional representative, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, “vile” and “not a lady.” What the hell could they ever work together on to mutually benefit the people of Florida?

Let’s take the Republicans at their word the government really is the enemy. Is it really surprising they seemingly have no interest in assisting in the smooth functioning of an institution they don’t believe in? If a house divided against itself must fall how long before a bitterly rancorous House falls apart and brings the Senate tumbling down with it?

Lying liars telling lies.