- Your News
By WELDON PAYNE
Authors of a new book focus on “the new and enhanced politics of hostage taking, of putting political expedience above the national interest and tribal hubris above cooperative problem solving.”
“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein on “How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism” is, in my opinion, a clear look at childish but extremely deadly games being played in Congress as well as the corrupt stampede for wealth to buy control of our nation.
Space allows only a few glimpses of charges made in the first half of the book by Mann, W. Averell Harriman, chair and senior fellow in Government Studies at The Brookings Institution, and Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
They contrast today’s seclusive behavior in Congress with various past GOP leaders such as Everett Dirksen, Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Gerald Ford, whom they say “found ways to work within the system and focused on solving problems” compared to today’s mind set. They quote Chuck Hagel, former Republican senator from Nebraska who, in an August 2011 interview with the Financial Times, called his party “irresponsible” and claimed disgust over Republican “antics over the debt ceiling” issue. Hagel said he was “very disgusted” in how the debt ceiling debate played out in Washington and added, “I think the Republican Party is captive to political movements that are very ideological, very narrow. I’ve never seen so much intolerance as I see today in American politics.”
Mike Lofgren, veteran GOP congressional staffer, is quoted from an essay the authors say he wrote in 2011 about why, after nearly 30 years, he ended his career. “It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult,” he wrote, “or like one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th Century Europe.” Hearkening back to WWII days when the Senate was a “high functioning” institution, Lofgren said filibusters were rare in that “productive” period. Today, he noted, it is “no wonder that Washington is grid locked “ and every procedural motion “is now subject to a Republican filibuster.” A GOP committee staff director had explained, he said, that if Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s positive rating among the American people.” By sabotaging the reputation of a government institution, he said he was told, the party that is against government would be the “relative winner.”
The authors cite numerous other similar positions in today’s Congress and contrast these attitudes to recent history of cooperation between the parties including several past Republican presidents. Since late 1970, they write, “Republicans have moved much more sharply in a conservative direction than did Democrats in a liberal direction.” Under Clinton and Obama, they note, Democrats “have become the more status-quo oriented, centrist protectors of government, willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits in order to maintain the government’s central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures and global economic challenges. Rank and file Democrats along with self-identified Independents, favor compromise to solve problems over deadlock.”
Ornstein and Mann, noting today’s sprawling “news” organizations, email, radio talk shows, complain that “all media have become more focused on sensationalism and extremism, on infotainment over information” while budgets for hard news have been slashed. They complain that, “No lie is too extreme to be published, aired, and repeated” and “audiences that hear them repeatedly believe the lies.”
Excessive influence by lobbyists, wild unlimited spending on elections, and the Supreme Court’s overturning “decades of established doctrine” have thrown the world of campaign finance into turmoil and demonstrates a “troubling new approach to governance by the Supreme Court,” the authors complain. They say Justice Kennedy “equated money with speech and equated corporations, “which have the one goal of making money, with individual citizens, who have many goals and motives to their lives, including making a better society, protecting their children and grandchildren and future generations …”
Just scratching the surface, but I hope to share more from the 200 pages next week.