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.

3 thoughts on “Burning Down the House (and the Senate Too)

  1. From where I am, having lived in Canada for 36 yrs as an American, I think your words ring very true here. Thank you for helping us to understand what is going on the country of my birth. I am native Californian about to return as a Snowbird to Northern California. I am intensely interested in what is happening down “across the line” as they say it here. I hope to arrange to be “in residence” there when the election takes place so I can put my “X” down for Obama and the Dems. May you be guided as you continue to search for and expose the truth.

    ~ californiagirlincanada ;o)


  2. I read a thought-provoking op-ed piece in the local paper a few years ago written by John Danforth, already retired, in which he talked about how the Republican party was being taken over by the religious right. (Danforth himself was the House chaplain and an Episcopal priest.) In his essay, he talked about not recognizing his own party and his own inability to get things done and build any kind of consensus. My husband is a disenfranchised Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and will again in 2012. My brother and one of my sisters were Repubs who left the party in disgust back when Gingrich was speaker of the house and insisted on impeaching Clinton.

    I can make no sense of the party and what their motivations are. It’s hard not to feel that they want to keep subsidizing those at the top — the one percent — and penalize those at the bottom. And that they want their version of America — white, fundamentalist Christian.


    • I have found former Senator Danforth a decent guy, but he did have one terrible lapse in judgment that diminishes him somewhat in my eyes, Mac. Danforth played a major part in inflicting upon the Supreme Court and America the monumental mediocrity that is Clarence Thomas:

      There is a link in my blog post to Esquire magazine’s Charles Pierce who says Danforth did his own part in poisoning the Congressional process:

      “If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.” Mr. Danforth, who was first elected the same year as Mr. Lugar, added, “I’m glad Lugar’s there and I’m not.”

      First of all, there is absolutely nothing prima facie wrong with any politician’s being challenged in a primary at any time in any place. God knows, the Democrats could use a couple of dozen more good solid primary fights. You can’t moan endlessly about how Americans take no interest in government and then complain when they actually do. That said, I am sorry, but the Reverend Danforth can go pound sand. He was in the Senate when the NCPAC campaigns were run. He was in the Senate when Lee Atwater was the presiding Republican genius. He was in the Senate when Newt Gingrich came to power. He likes to pretend that he’s become appalled by what’s happened to the party since he left the Senate, but he was there when all the forces were gathering, and it’s a little late to decide he doesn’t have the belly for the inevitable results. But, more to the historical point, it was Danforth most of all who is responsible for the phenomenon that is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and, in that fight, Danforth was as much a culture warrior as all the people who seem to offend him today.

      It was Danforth who gave Thomas sanctimonous cover during the Senate confirmation hearings in which Thomas, at the very least, played Edward Scissorhands with the truth. Danforth even later wrote a book about it in which poor, misused soon-to-be Justice Thomas was nearly destroyed by the high-tech lynching he received, and in which Danforth confesses quite Heepishly that he may have been less than Christian in his defense of his protege. Well, horse hockey. You got what you wanted: a permanent seat on the Supreme Court for a vengeful conservative extremist. (In his book, Danforth argues that,”I did not think his political philosophy should be relevant to his nomination,” to which Clio, Muse Of History, replies, “WTF?” and opens another bottle of Virginia Gentleman.) I am utterly at the end of my patience with all of these “How could this ever have happened to my party?” arias from the people who could have stopped it at the time, but found it expedient not to do so. It’s enough to get me rooting for Richard Mourdock.

      In Washington it seems everyone has some amount of dirt under their fingernails. 😦


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