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The Radicalization Of The Republican Party: Seven Years Late, Media Elites Finally Acknowledge GOP’s Radical Ways

Now they tell us the Republican Party is to blame? That the Obama years haven’t been gummed up by Both Sides Are To Blame obstruction?

The truth is, anyone with clear vision recognized a long time ago that the GOP has transformed itself since 2009 into an increasingly radical political party, one built on complete and total obstruction. It’s a party designed to make governing difficult, if not impossible, and one that plotted seven years ago to shred decades of Beltway protocol and oppose every inch of Obama’s two terms. (“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)

And for some of us, it didn’t take Donald Trump’s careening campaign to confirm the destructive state of the GOP. But if it’s the Trump circus that finally opens some pundits’ eyes, so be it.

Recently, Dan Balz, the senior political writer for the Washington Post, seemed to do just that while surveying the unfolding GOP wreckage as the party splinters over Trump’s rise. Balz specifically noted that four years ago political scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein examined the breakdown in American politics and zeroed in their blame squarely on Republicans.

“They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing,” Balz acknowledged.

“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012. “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.”

They continued:

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.

Tough stuff.

And what was the Beltway media’s response when Ornstein and Mann squarely blamed Republicans during an election year for purposefully making governing impossible? Media elites suddenly lost Mann and Ornstein’s number, as the duo’s television appearances and calls for quotes quickly dried up. So did much of the media’s interest in Mann and Ornstein’s prescient book.

“This was far too much for the mainstream press,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “They couldn’t assimilate what Mann and Ornstein said AND maintain routines and assumptions that posited a rough symmetry between the two parties. (‘Both sides do it.’) It was too much dissonance. Too much wreckage. So they pushed it away.”

For anyone who still harbors the naïve notion that the political debates staged by the Beltway press represent freewheeling discussions where anything goes, the Mann/Ornstein episode helped shed some light on the fact that certain topics and analysis remain off limits for public debate for years — even topics that are accurate, fair and essential to understanding our government’s current dysfunction.

Mann and Ornstein stepped forward to accurately describe what was happening to the Republican Party and detailed the calamitous effect it had on our democracy, and the mainstream media turned away.

So committed was the pundit class to maintaining its safe narrative about “bipartisan gridlock” and Obama’s puzzling inability to find “middle ground” with Republicans (i.e. why doesn’t he just schmooze more?), the press was willing to ignore Mann and Ornstein’s solid, scholarly research in order to wish the problem away.

Quite predictably, that problem has only worsened since 2012, which is what Mann and Ornstein address in their latest offering, “It’s Even Worse Than It Was.”  

“It is the radicalization of the Republican party,” they recently wrote, “that has been the most significant and consequential change in American politics in recent decades.”

“The radicalization of the Republican party” — talk about the topic the Beltway press simply doesn’t want to dwell on, let alone acknowledge. Instead, the press has clung to its preferred narrative about how the GOP is filled with honest brokers who are waiting to work in good faith with the White House. Eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are responsible for sparking conflict (i.e. center-right Republicans vs. center-left Democrats), the press effectively gave Republicans a pass and pretended their radical, obstructionist ways represented normal partisan pursuits. (They didn’t.)

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

The 2014 obstruction of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was especially galling, as a single Republican senator blocked a vote on the crucial veterans bill.

At the time of the bill’s blockade, Media Matters noted that there was virtually no coverage of the radical obstructionism on CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, as well as news blackouts in the nation’s six largest newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, and Chicago Tribune

In other words, the GOP’s radical brand of obstructionism not only doesn’t get highlighted as something notable, radical, and dangerous; it’s often met with a collective shrug as the press pretends these kind of nonstop impediments are commonplace.

As Obama works his way through his final year in office, at least pundits like Balz are highlighting that Mann and Ornstein (and yes, Media Matters) were right about the GOP and the asymmetrical blame the party deserves for trying to wreck our functioning government.

It’s never too late for truth telling.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Governing, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shredding Their Own Talking Points”: Senate Republicans Turn Their Principles Into A Punch Line

Before President Obama even introduced Merrick Garland as his Supreme Court nominee, Senate Republicans said they had little choice but to impose an impenetrable blockade. Their “principles,” GOP senators said, made any other course of action impossible.

First, for example, Republicans said their principles required them to honor the “tradition that both parties have lived by for over 80 years” about high-court vacancies that occur during a president’s eighth year. Soon after, Republicans sheepishly acknowledged that “tradition” doesn’t exist.

Republicans then said their principles about the Supreme Court have nothing do to with partisanship. Soon after, they quietly conceded that if a GOP president were in office, the blockade wouldn’t exist.

Republicans then said their opposition to Garland’s nomination has nothing to do with Garland specifically or his qualifications, but rather, the party’s principles about election-year confirmation votes. Soon after, the Republican National Committee released an oppo dump on Garland – a judge Republicans and conservatives have praised for years – which pointed in the opposite direction of their purported principles.

And finally, Republicans said their principles require them to keep this vacancy in place so that “the next president” can fill it, Garland’s merits notwithstanding. Except, many GOP senators have decided not to take this principle seriously, either.

Sen. Orrin Hatch on Thursday blasted the notion that the Senate would consider the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland before November – but suggested he would be open to confirming him if Hillary Clinton wins the general election and doesn’t announce her own choice. […]

Hatch remarked that it is possible that Garland could undergo a confirmation process during the lame-duck session following the Nov. 8 election, but that is largely contingent upon who the next president would be.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I honestly can’t remember the last time Republicans went so far to shred their own talking points in public. According to Orrin Hatch, the GOP’s blockade against Garland has nothing to do with partisanship or even the judge’s nomination on the merits, but rather, this is solely about principle.

Unless, of course, Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, at which point the GOP will gladly throw their principles out the window. Hatch isn’t the only one, either.

We’re talking about elected senators who aren’t even trying to work in good faith. Some of these Republicans seem quite comfortable appearing nakedly partisan, abandoning any sense of propriety or responsibility, as if they simply don’t care whether or not they appear ridiculous.

In fairness, there are some exceptions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) conceded yesterday, “We can’t have it both ways.” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee, agreed and said he intended to stick to the underlying principle.

But these positions are not guiding Republican tactics, at least not right now. The GOP game plan is as follows:

1.Impose an eight-month blockade on the Garland nomination, unlike anything ever seen in American history, including a prohibition on floor votes and confirmation hearings.

2.Wait for the election results in November.

3.If a Republican wins the presidency, do nothing.

4.If Hillary Clinton wins, revisit the blockade and consider confirming Garland during the lame-duck session between Election Day and the start of the new Congress in 2017.

The benefit to Republicans would be obvious: they’d confirm a 63-year-old moderate, rather than let Clinton nominate someone younger and more liberal. At that point, GOP senators appear craven and unprincipled, but by all appearances, Republicans just don’t care.

And while GOP senators may not be concerned about their reputations or their ability to take pride in their public service, they should be concerned with the details of the nominating process: if Clinton wins and Republicans decide to move forward on Garland, President Obama could always withdraw the nomination during the lame-duck session and empower his Democratic successor to start the process anew in the new year.

If Republicans aren’t prepared to take their own principles seriously, no one else will, either.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 17, 2016

March 18, 2016 Posted by | Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“GOP’s Benghazi Committee Passes Ignominious Milestone”: The American Taxpayers Continue To Pay The Price

It’s long been difficult to find a legitimate purpose for the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee, but as of October, the panel was simply indefensible. A farcical 11-hour hearing with Hillary Clinton, coupled with a series of internal controversies, made clear that the committee needed to pull the plug.

But it didn’t. In fact, McClatchy reported this morning on the partisan exercise passing an ignominious milestone.

As of Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi has been in existence for 609 days, surpassing the length of time the 9/11 Commission took to investigate the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Instead of following the bipartisan model set by the 9/11 Commission, which brought our entire nation together after we were attacked by terrorists, Republicans created a highly partisan Select Committee with an unlimited budget to attack their political opponents,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat. “Republicans continue to drag out this political charade closer to the 2016 presidential election, and the American taxpayers continue to pay the price.”

Remember, even congressional Republicans have admitted the committee is a partisan exercise, making it that much more difficult to justify its prolonged existence.

For the record, the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan panel created to investigate the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil, conducted its work over 1 year, 7 months, and 25 days – which works out to 604 days, five fewer than this current charade.

A report from Benghazi Committee Democrats added, “The Benghazi Select Committee has surpassed multiple previous congressional investigations, including the investigations of Hurricane Katrina, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, Iran-Contra, Church Committee, and Watergate.”

What’s more, the Benghazi investigation, which has cost American taxpayers nearly $5.6 million, isn’t done. There is no end date in mind, and there’s every reason to believe GOP lawmakers will just keep it going, probably with this year’s elections in mind.

Just so we’re clear, though I find the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee ridiculous, I’m not suggesting the deadly terrorist attack in Libya, which left four Americans dead, is unworthy of investigation. Just the opposite is true – Congress had a responsibility to determine what happened and take steps to prevent similar attacks in the future.

But therein lies the point: seven separate congressional committees investigated the Benghazi attack before the Select Committee was even created. It was one of the most scrutinized events in American history. Republican lawmakers, however, didn’t quite care for what the evidence told them, so they effectively concluded, “Maybe an eighth committee will tell us something the other seven committees didn’t.”

That, alas, was 609 days ago. If there’s a coherent defense for this exercise, I can’t think of it.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 6, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Congressional Investigations, GOP, House Select Committee on Benghazi | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Upending The Status Quo”: How Obama Is Shrewdly Using Partisanship To Sideline Netanyahu And Save The Iran Nuclear Deal

The conventional wisdom is that partisanship in Washington, D.C., is one of the biggest obstacles to solving America’s most entrenched problems, from fixing the immigration system to closing the inequality gap. But if the fallout from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forthcoming address to Congress is any indication, partisanship can be a pretty useful tool when it comes to upending the status quo.

Throughout the controversy, the White House has been happy to run its relationship with Netanyahu through the partisan vortex, helping splinter a bipartisan consensus that was once the most potent domestic threat to a U.S. rapport with Iran — a deal that would constitute the crowning accomplishment of President Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Of course, Netanyahu has himself to blame more than anyone. By accepting an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to essentially hammer the administration before a joint session of Congress, without notifying the White House or the State Department, he took his longstanding disdain for Obama to new heights. When even Fox News anchors are questioning your treatment of the president, this may be a sign you have crossed a line.

He exacerbated his problems by rejecting an invitation from Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) to privately meet with Democrats, in what they said was an attempt to “balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner.” Netanyahu explained that the meeting would “compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” but it seems his rejection accomplished that just fine on its own.

“Since when does an Israeli prime minister say no to a meeting with Democrats?” bemoaned a former Israeli official to The New York Times. And referring to Durbin and Feinstein, he said, “By the way, their Israeli voting record is impeccable. Not good, not very good, impeccable.”

This gets to the crux of the problem for Obama, as he potentially heads into the final stretch of a years-long attempt to reach a deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. He not only has to fend off opposition from Republicans, but staunch pro-Israel members of his own party, some of whom seem intent on passing additional sanctions on Iran to scuttle any deal. The problem is so acute that, as recently as January, Obama faced the prospect of a united Congress overriding his veto for the first time in his presidency.

But that has changed. By aligning himself so plainly with the GOP, Netanyahu may have made it impossible for Democrats to join the Republicans. As Dov Zakheim writes at Foreign Policy, “Netanyahu’s determination to address Congress has all but destroyed any chance the Hill’s passing new sanctions and overriding a presidential veto. The deal will therefore go ahead.”

The Obama administration appears to realize this, taking the fight to Netanyahu in a highly public way. The White House made clear it would snub Netanyahu, saying both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would not meet with him. It still has not said who (if anyone) will be attending the annual summit this weekend of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. [Update: Rice and Samantha Powers, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., will attend.] Then this week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Netanyhu’s speech was “destructive” to U.S.-Israeli relations — not “unhelpful” or any other boilerplate diplomatic language, but “destructive.”

Then Secretary of State John Kerry used his testimony on Wednesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee to remind everyone that Netanyahu supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Never mind that Kerry was for it before he was against it — he noted that Netanyahu is a hysterical hawk and associated the Israeli prime minister with the most divisive foreign policy issue of the last generation. After all, everyone knows that there is little rank-and-file Democrats hate more than the Iraq War and those who egged the Bush administration on. (Kerry’s attack was all the more remarkable given the fact that his friendship with Netanyahu goes back to the 1970s.)

This is all bad news for those who believe that a U.S. accord with Iran would spell doom for Israel. But for those who believe that diplomacy and negotiations are far better than the alternatives, they might have partisanship to thank.

 

By: Ryu Spaeth, The Week, February 27, 2015

March 3, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Personal Relationships’ Can Only Go So Far”: No Modern Precedent For Partisan Polarization As Intense As Today’s GOP Status Quo

It’s a fact of contemporary domestic politics that many in Washington resist, but there’s a limit to the power of presidential schmoozing.

The President’s failure to build friendships with lawmakers has damaged his chances of finding bipartisan support for legislation, a senator from his own party said Sunday. “It’s just hard to say no to a friend,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“When you build that relationship and that friendship, you’re looking for ways to try to work things out and find a compromise and, you know, that friendship means an awful lot. When you don’t build those personal relationships, it’s pretty easy for a person to say, well, let me talk about it, you know, and not really make, you know, that extra effort.”

I wish this were true, because it would suggest the underlying problem would be fairly easy to solve. If Manchin were right, and President Obama’s “personal relationships” with lawmakers could lead to more responsible governing, a concerted effort could be made to turn the White House into The Friendliest Place on Earth.

Regrettably, though, Manchin’s remedy is deeply flawed.

Let’s put aside, at least for now, the fact that Obama has gone further than any modern president in bringing members of the opposing party into his cabinet and incorporating ideas from the opposing party’s agenda into his own policy plans – only to find that Republicans oppose the very ideas they used to support once they learn the president agrees with them.

Let’s instead focus on this notion of “building personal relationships.” I’m reminded of an anecdote from a year ago, when Obama invited several GOP lawmakers to the White House for a private screening with the stars of the movie “Lincoln.” The president extended the invitation in secret, so congressional Republicans wouldn’t face any lobbying to turn Obama down.

How many of the invited Republicans accepted the invitation? None.

The Beltway seems to accept as fact the notion that an aloof president has made no effort to cultivate friendships with members of Congress, but reality points in a very different direction. It’s not just movie nights, either – Obama has hosted casual “get-to-know-you” gatherings; he’s taken Republicans out to dinner on his dime; he’s taken House Speaker Boehner out golfing; and he’s held Super Bowl and March Madness parties at the White House for lawmakers.

When it comes to “building personal relationships,” we’ve seen the effort. It just doesn’t seem to have paid any dividends.

And why not? Because the importance of presidential schmoozing has been wildly exaggerated, based on an antiquated, romanticized vision. As we’ve discussed before, there have been times at which lawmakers were on the fence before a big vote, and a president could gently apply pressure with a White House dinner invitation and an after-meal chat on the Truman balcony. For those who believe these traditional norms still apply, there’s an assumption that Obama can get his way with Congress if only he engaged more.

But in 2013, those norms have been thrown out the window.

If lack of schmoozing isn’t the problem, what is? As we’ve discussed many times, traditional governing dynamics are largely impossible given that the Republican Party has reached an ideological extreme unseen in modern American history. It’s a quantifiable observation, not a subjective one.

The result is a situation in which GOP lawmakers refuse to compromise or accept concessions, partly due to partisan rigidity, partly out of fear of a primary challenge, and most of the time, both.

Indeed, the parties sharply disagree with one another – there is no modern precedent for partisan polarization as intense as today’s status quo – and presidential outreach won’t change that. Congressional Republicans tend to fundamentally reject just about everything the White House wants, believes, and perceives as true. Presidential friendships change nothing.

Let’s return to the thesis presented last year by Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein: “[W]e 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.

The notion that schmoozing will lead to progress rests upon the assumption that congressional Republicans are responsible officials, willing to negotiate and work in good faith, and prepared to find common ground with Obama. All they need is some face-time and presidential hand-holding. Once they can get along on a personal level, a constructive process will follow.

It’s a pleasant enough fantasy, and I wish it were true, but everything we’ve seen over the last four years points in the opposite direction.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 23, 2013

December 24, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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