Our Current Distemper

As we head towards what will probably be another fiscal crisis in December, perhaps managed by a caretaker Speaker of the House, coinciding with the frenzy of a presidential nominating contest in which nearly all Republicans are running against their own party’s leadership, it’s a good time to step back and remind ourselves how we got to this juncture.

In pursuit of perspective, Bloomberg View‘s Francis Wilkinson interviews Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. As you may recall, Ornstein and Mann published a book in 2012 entitled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which broke from the usual “balanced” assessment of blame for the nation’s problems that prevails in the MSM and much of academia and pointed at the phenomenon of “asymmetric polarization” emanating from the radicalization of the Republican Party.

Now that the political dysfunction they analyzed has if anything intensified, have Ornstein and Mann changed their minds about any of this? No, as you can quickly see from the interview. But I’d point to a succinct quote from Mann that addresses the preconditions for recovery:

There is no clear path out of our current distemper. The solution, like the diagnosis, must focus on the obvious but seldom acknowledged asymmetry between the parties. The Republican Party must become a conservative governing party once again and accept the assumptions and norms of our Madisonian system. That will likely require more election defeats, more honest reporting by the mainstream press and more recognition by the public that the problem is not “Washington” or “Congress” or “insiders” or politicians in general.

The burden is on the GOP because they are currently the major source of our political dysfunction. No happy talk about bipartisanship can obscure that reality. Unless other voices and movements arise within the Republican Party to change its character and course, our dysfunctional politics will continue.

Remember how annoyed much of the punditocracy was on Tuesday night when Hillary Clinton listed “Republicans” as among the “enemies” she was proud of earning? That reflexive annoyance, not Clinton’s “partisanship,” is a big part of the problem.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.