This article originally appeared on Media Matters.
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.”
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.
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.