BARONE DEFINES ‘NORMAL’…. Jon Chait had a great piece yesterday about the “fecklessness” and “parochialism” that too often interferes with the Democratic Party’s ability to advance its agenda. U.S. News‘ Michael Barone argued in response that the Democratic Party also struggles because it’s made up of constituencies who aren’t “normal.”

[T]he Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans — Northern white Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians more recently — while the Democratic Party is the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal — white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and white seculars more recently. Thus it’s natural for the Democrats to be more fissiparous.

Someone is going to have to help me out with this one. Democrats experience more intra-party fissures than Republicans because African Americans and white secularists aren’t “normal”? Republicans join in lock step because it’s the party of married white Christians — who necessarily are “normal”?

To hear Barone tell it, diversity leads to conflict, which somehow explains why center-right Democrats like Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh are undermining the White House domestic agenda.

Except, it’s not only bizarre to characterize blacks and secularists as less than “normal,” it doesn’t even the real causes behind the intra-party challenges facing Democrats. As Chait noted, Barone’s argument “would make sense if the Democrats were cracking up over social policy. In fact, they’re cracking up over economics — or, specifically, the fact that Democrats tend to be in hoc to local business interests. There is a structural assymetry between the parties at work, but it lies in the fact that Republicans draw all their economic support from business and back the business agenda, while Democrats draw support from labor and environmentalists along with business and must navigate compromises between the two. But Barone was probably just trying to find another way to work in his oft-stated belief that Democrats are a bunch of freaks disconnected from middle America.”

Barone has long been a far-right columnist, but he seems to be heading off the ideological cliff. He recently told a roomful of journalists, for example, that the media took a skeptical attitude towards Sarah Palin because “she did not abort her Down syndrome baby.” (He’d argued during the campaign that Palin had “foreign policy experience” because Alaska “is the only state with a border with Russia.”)

Like a lot of political junkies, I’ve spent many an hour referencing the “Almanac of American Politics,” which wouldn’t exist were it not for Barone. Given this, it’s genuinely sad to see what’s become of him.

About a year ago, Mark Schmitt had a terrific item on Barone, noting that he’d embraced “a strange kind of conservatism, which seems based largely on the conviction that liberals are soft and stupid.”

If Barone wasn’t considering retirement before, maybe now would be a good time.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.