I feel E.J. Dionne’s pain

I FEEL E.J. DIONNE’S PAIN…. The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne Jr. has long been a favorite of mine. I don’t agree with every word of every piece, but for the most part, Dionne has been an insightful and clever observer for quite a while.

But I’ve noticed of late that Dionne, a pretty level-headed, even-tempered pundit, is getting increasingly frustrated, even agitated. I’ve noticed this because I can relate to the columnist’s exasperation. Today, for example, Dionne asks a question I’ve asked myself: “Can a nation remain a superpower if its internal politics are incorrigibly stupid?”

The piece takes note of recent developments that seem to defy all reason — despite talk of fiscal responsibility, Republicans are demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, which they have no intention of paying for. Despite the overwhelming evidence on the efficacy of the stimulus, much of the nation chooses to ignore the facts and resist steps that would improve the economy. Despite the need for the government to be able to respond to challenges, Republicans won’t let the Senate function.

I’m a chronic optimist about America. But we are letting stupid politics, irrational ideas on fiscal policy and an antiquated political structure undermine our power.

We need a new conservatism in our country that is worthy of the name. We need liberals willing to speak out on the threat our daft politics poses to our influence in the world. We need moderates who do more than stick their fingers in the wind to calculate the halfway point between two political poles.

And, yes, we need to reform a Senate that has become an embarrassment to our democratic claims.

Not surprisingly, I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. But the more interesting thing to keep in mind here is that while Dionne laments “incorrigible stupidity” today, he’s been embracing this kind of tone more and more. His last column blasted Fox News and “right-wing propaganda.” Two weeks ago, he took note of Tea Party racism. A few weeks earlier, he lamented “conservative militancy” and Tea Party “extremism.” He’s knocked down efforts to equate ideological purges in both parties, and he’s taken a leading role in shining a light on conservative judicial activism.

To an extent, it’s tempting to hope this is evidence of a larger phenomenon. Maybe millions of mild-mannered, center-left patriots are so bewildered by recent political nonsense, they’ll turn out in record numbers, feeling exactly the way Dionne does about recent events. Or maybe not.

Either way, I can’t help but enjoy — and feel vaguely validated by — Dionne getting angrier about what he perceives as the absurdities of the status quo. It’s an emotion I can relate to.