Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thoughtful centrists send out a wake-up call to America and the press

There are those who pose as centrists observers to our political system - people like Tom Friedman and organizations like Americans Elect. And then there are the real thing - people like Norm Ornstein (with the American Enterprise Institute) and Thomas Mann (with the Brookings Institute). Yesterday, the later two wrote a column for the Washington Post that sent out a wake-up call to the American people and the press.  Its true that nothing they've written is likely to be news to any readers here. The importance of this article is not what they're saying but who is finally saying it. Take a look.
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.
FINALLY the center notices!!!!

Ornstein and Mann go on to trace the historical trajectory of how we got here and describe how its affecting our current inability to deal with the challenges facing us today. And then they give some powerful advice to both the American voting public and the press.
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...

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?...

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.
President Obama often refers to the historic choice facing voters in this election. I believe this is what it all comes down to...will America resoundingly reject the ideological extremism embraced by the Republican Party of today and allow us to move forward in dialogue about how to address the issues of the day? Or do we stay mired in gridlock perpetrated as a power play by Republicans?

In that light, I'd join Ornstein and Mann in suggesting that a mere victory for Democrats is not enough. What we need is an "across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls." And its up to us to make that happen.


  1. Oh My goodness, finally truth thy name is Ornstein and Mann!!! They said it, spoke truth to power, out loud and clear! I wish there were a way to send it to every cable pundit, newspaper, blogger!! The American people have been done such a disservice by the "reporting" we have had for the past few years. Even going back to the McCain campaign, the false equivalency was almost too much to bear!

    Will the press notice? Maybe. Ornstein and Mann have that kind of credibility. Pundits will not want to be cited as an example in their next column. I am truly thrilled and so is PM Carpenter.

  2. I've been amazed for years that Ornstein works at AEI.