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The GOP Has Become a Malevolent Force in American Life

The GOP Has Become a Malevolent Force in American Life

Consider these words written in 2012 by non-partisan political scientists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein:

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.

Eight years on things have got demonstrably worse. Republicans continue efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act both legislatively (in 2017, which failed) or in court as GOP states led by Texas pursue a lawsuit currently pending before the Supreme Court that may see the ACA overturned next spring. The consequences to millions of Americans would be devastating.
This in the face of a virulent pandemic with more millions of Americans losing their jobs and their health care who will likely need the ACA. In the current health crisis, the Republicans’ rush to open up the economy before infection rates have decreased or we have adequate testing and contact tracing capabilities promises to cause thousands of unnecessary deaths – particularly among the elderly.

Meanwhile the GOP’s stubborn and obtuse denial of climate change threatens the future of our children and grandchildren. The depressing litany of destructive policies the GOP has embraced over the years whether its unravelling environmental protections and workplace safety regulations, beating up on the poor in America, suppressing voting rights of minorities to name but a handful, do enormous harm to the American people. The reality is of a political party and conservative movement that rejects the worth and role of government to do good and runs it incompetently to prove its point, while doing everything possible to impede the other party from governing effectively.

In this the GOP is robustly supported by its perpetually angry base, and a right-wing media machine that pushes both to the extremes. Negative partisanship is bipartisan but at least most Democrats get their news from reliable mainstream media as opposed to Republicans who are far more likely to be misinformed thanks to conservative media even on something as critical as the coronavirus. The latest conservative conspiracy theory, for example, is that the COVID-19 death rate is vastly exaggerated, a dangerous illusion that promotes a lethal complacency.

In short, Republican governance at every level is severely hazardous to our health and well being. In the present emergency, a GOP administration first weakened the federal government’s ability to combat a theoretical pandemic then thoroughly botched its response to a real one. And while a pragmatic Democratic House has tried gamely to bring some sanity to the government’s response to the economic and health calamities, it’s an uphill struggle against an ideologically driven, boneheaded GOP majority in the Senate. For example, an obvious need to support states with an infusion of federal funding as their economies tank and their revenues plummet is being blocked by a hatefully partisan GOP leadership that sees it as disproportionately (and erroneously) benefitting Democratic states.

When this catastrophe is finally over, Americans need to have a serious conversation on the future of our democracy in light of the bitter divisions that are unlikely to ameliorate even without the vile and divisive presence of either Trump or Senator “Moscow” Mitch McConnell. I don’t pretend to know the answer but I do know that we can never move forward as a country while this extreme polarization, without parallel in any other democratic nation, persists.

GOP intransigence and blackmail may be about to bear fruit

GOP intransigence and blackmail may be about to bear fruit

The GOP had a plan in 2009: Bitterly oppose and obstruct every policy initiative the Obama administration and congressional Democrats proposed, create tumult and crises, then blame Obama and the Democrats for the gridlock which, they could then argue, would be fixed only by electing a Republican president to break the paralysis.

For their plan to work, GOP congressional leaders Mitch McConnell of the Senate and John Boehner in the House required three essential elements: party discipline in the congress, a rabid base that supported their intransigence and an inattentive and largely uninformed electorate.

Imposing party discipline has rarely been a problem for Republicans and so it has proved over the last 4 years even with the very occasional flashes of independence displayed early on by the so-called “moderate” Maine women (Senators Snowe and Collins).

And with the Tea Party now the driving force of the GOP, McConnell/Boehner had an extremist base that not merely supported the strategy but punished anyone deemed a compromiser. Such conservative icons as Richard Lugar of Indiana paid the price.

Finally, a huge swath of the American electorate either failed to see what was going on or simply dismissed it as politics as usual. It wasn’t.

In all the years I’ve lived in the US I cannot remember a time when one of the two major parties so blatantly put its interests before those of the country to discredit a president of the other party and, ultimately, regain the White House.

The beauty of the American political system we’ve always been told is that compromise is an essential feature. But there is no spirit of compromise in today’s GOP. Or rather, the word is only used in connections with an expectation that Democrats will compromise with a President Romney and GOP congressional leaders; conversely, the latter will never do the same for a re-elected Obama.

There is an underlying element of blackmail in this strategy. In effect the GOP is making clear they will render the country ungovernable under a Democratic president. And they are willing to wreak great damage to the country if necessary; we saw an example of this clearly with the actions of House Republicans in the negotiations over raising the nation’s debt limit in 2011. And they are now threatening as much for the looming “fiscal cliff” as it has come to be known.

And it’s working. Ezra Klein in The Washington Post cites the shameful (my word not Klein’s) endorsement of two newspapers which supported Obama in 2008 and have now endorsed Romney for 2012 precisely because they see continuing gridlock with Obama and the GOP leadership, but the possibility of compromise if Romney wins the White House.

The conservative pseudo-intellectual David Brooks in The New York Times explicitly makes the case for Romney in citing the virtual impossibility of congressional Republicans meeting Obama half-way. Of course in doing so, he dishes out his usual cloud-cuckoo palaver about Romney’s likely tack to the center, magically dragging along congressional Republicans as he does so. Sure he will.

Republicans are confident they will prevail in large part because, unlike themselves, Democrats are not a reckless, destructive force willing to tolerate harm to the country through governmental failure or inertia. And they’re right.

Yet there is great peril in all this for the country. To vindicate the GOP strategy is to encourage repeat performances whenever a Democrat wins the presidency. To blackmail the country into electing a GOP president or face governmental paralysis will effectively disenfranchise the half of the electorate that doesn’t share the GOP’s narrow and mean-spirited ideology, one which would move us inexorably towards a survival of the fittest society.

More importantly, it would fundamentally undermine the very foundation of the American form of government and conceivably usher in what looks more like a parliamentary system where one party can rule. And we know which one that will be.

Up to now, Americans have failed to recognize today’s Republican Party for the extremist and destructive force it represents. And it is well past time for the American people to wake up and deliver the electoral blow that is the only way to pull it back to the mainstream.

The Truth Regarding GOP Extremism

The Truth Regarding GOP Extremism

In an essay appearing in The Washington Post and adapted from their new book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available next week, Thomas E Mann, a senior fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution, and  Norman J Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, lend their scholarly weight to what the likes of New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, and the contributors to this blog (among others) have been saying for a long time now: That the GOP is the primary source of the governmental and policy paralysis in this country, and that it is unlike anything the country has seen in the modern era.  In other words it is not “politics as usual”.

Their views carry considerable weight because they are long time, highly respected scholars on and analysts of congress, politics, government policy, and elections, and their words cannot easily be dismissed as merely partisan.  

Mann and Ornstein make it clear that the GOP’s extremism has no equivalent on the left, and contrast the willingness of Democrats in Congress to work with George W. Bush on No Child Left Behind, the war on al-Qaida, and even tax cuts (misguided and shameful though many of us regard that particular support) as well as other issues, with the GOP’s steadfast refusal to cooperate with Obama on anything of great import. The zealotry of the GOP driven by an even more fanatical base was on display in the willingness of many in the House to see America default on its debt, a sure sign to the world of a totally dysfunctional government.

Mann and Ornstein rightly take the mainstream media to task for confusing balance on this issue with failing to recognize and convey truth and reality to the public:

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.

That may be more generous than the media deserves. Is it really confusion or cowardice?

And the failure of the American electorate to recognize and rise up to reject the GOP’s current extremism at the polls (indeed shockingly to embrace it in the 2010 mid-terms) is also highlighted:

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.

The question remains: What is it going to take for the American people and mainstream media to see what’s in front of their nose?