The Rowdy Book Club…Delayed

My apologies to all those waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to discuss It’s Even Worse Than It Looks; I’ve been tied up all day with a unplanned but inescapable client project and haven’t had the time to post the more thorough commentary  I’d envisioned.  That said, I don’t want to make people wait too long so here’s a short kick-off to get things rolling:

I agree with the premise of the book that 1) the parties – particularly the Republicans – are becoming much more “parliamentary” in nature and are those voting in much more rigid blocs.  As they demonstrate, the most conservative Democrat is now more liberal than the most liberal Republican; a condition that has seldom (ever?) been the case in the last 150 years.  This ideological rigidity is a serious problem for a system that is inherently inefficient and is designed to work best when there is compromise and consensus.  It is, in fact, a recipe for the very gridlock we’ve seen over the last three years.

Mann and Ornstein also make the point that this hyper-partisanship is coming at a particularly bad time in our history as there are serious problems at home and abroad that need addressing and that aren’t.  It is also a time when some of the other institutions we rely on – the courts and the media in particular – are undergoing changes and stresses of their own that either add to the partisanship fervor or distract them from playing a counterbalancing role.

The solutions the authors propose range from the “not possible” – changing the Constitution, etc. – to the doable but incremental like changing the rules involving filibusters and cloture in the Senate.  Contemplating the possible election of a Republican Senate, I’m not wild about losing the ability of the minority to stifle unwelcome legislation by changing the Senate rules, particularly if Romney is elected, but I’m coming to at least consider the notion that anything is better than what we’ve been seeing.

So…what do you think?  Any of the analysis strike you as wrongheaded?  Any of the solutions seem more desirable or doable than others?

Let the opining commence.

– Austin

11 thoughts on “The Rowdy Book Club…Delayed

  1. Lambert says:

    Well ok, I’ve waited long enough for Newt to take the first shot. Something about Kenyan liberals and birth certificates, maybe. But if the point of a serious book by serious, well-informed observers is to provoke a conversation that leads to solutions I remain fascinated/obsessed with the role of our league of gentleman/lady journalists. Correct me if I’ve missed it, but has either local editorial page or any of their various columnists made even mention of this book and its indictment of the response of news organizations to such unprecedented and flagrant lying/obstructionism?

    Congress is not likely to cure itself. Certainly not in an age of Citizens United. Some kind of electoral apocalypse for the Norquist/Gingrich/Cantor mindset might take a step toward neutering their power. But when even once-admired figures like John McCain go insurgent parliamentary, to avoid primary attacks from psychotic characters/ex-talk radio jocks like J D Hayworth, the adults are clearly not going to claim back the moderate banner by force of winning argument.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    One thing I find interesting about this is that if you read what the authors have written over the years, they’ve been very balanced observers of Congress. So it was surprising to me how much they were willing to lay the blame for all of this at the feet of the Republicans. From what I can recall, that’s not been the author’s tune over the years.

    I worked a Member of Congress from 1984 to 1993. From that perspective, I’d say that the Republicans serving then bear absolutely no resemblance to the Republicans serving now. Even the people from that era who are still serving have become MUCH more balkanized, and captive to the most conservative 10% of the electorate. It was very, very difficult to reach compromise then. It is literally almost impossible to do so now, because of this quantum shift of Republicans to the far, far right.

    I’m not surprised Ornstein and Mann observe the same thing. But I am a bit surprised that they are willing to say it so frontally.

    1. Lambert says:

      It is the elephant in the room, of course. To NOT notice it pretty much destroys any claim you have to credibility. what I would have liked from them — although Thomas Frank has done a good job on this end of the story – is to play out an insider’s case history of the fringe “turning” an established moderate. Again, John McClain’s story — from about 2007 on — will be fascinating to read. Who funded Hayworth? Who demanded McClain toe the insurgent line? What threats were made? What kind of resistance did he put up? How did he calculate open resistance to Norquist, or the Koch clan?

      As I think I’ve said in some of my posts, there’s an irony in the established media on the one hand playing the faux objectivity/balance game and on the other criticizing “mere bloggers” for being so intemperate in their views. I don’t regard a compromised professional position vis a vis that elephant as a journalistic virtue.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Yeah, that would be interesting. I wish McCain would retire before he dies, because he might tell that story after he retires, either by writing a book or doing a candid interview with someone.

  3. Wow, the commentary from the bar stools on the right side of the bar is deafeningly quiet. Anybody want to take a stab at refuting the premise of the book?

    – Austin

    1. PM says:

      Nope, still no one wants to contest the matter.

      Perhaps the authors did too good a job of making their case?

  4. We on the right side of the aisle are nothing but religous fanatics who watch Fox and don’t read and are too busy firing our assault rifles out in the backwoods and stockpiling food. You actually thought we read? Haha. Now that’s funny. I don’t care who ya are…..

    1. I knew it!

      Of course, here in the People’s Republic of South Minneapolis, we all watch Rachel Maddow and think she’s about the smartest person in the world. We aren’t big on church, but we do go to the farmer’s market every weekend with our canvas totes and our skim, soy chai lattes in reusable cups. We refuse to read books on digital devices because it hurts the local progressive bookshop and we have a Prius and a bicycle in our two-car garage. We put our fingers in our ears and chant “I can’t hear you…” whenever Michelle Bachmann comes on TV.

      I’m not sure which of has the worse stereotype – the right clinging to their guns and religion or the left clinging to their worn out copies of “Rules for Radicals” and their “Violence Never Solved Anything” bumpstickers.

      – Austin

      1. And, the whales! Nuke the whales! No, wait…it’s no nuclear whalers…no, that’s not right either. Maybe it’s the sharks we’re worried about? Save the sharks? Sharks are people too?

        It’s so hard to keep my causes straight. Can we eat California grapes yet? Do I have to keep watching the Teletubbies in support of gay rights?

        I used to have a politically correct Saab (though I can no longer remember why owning a Saab was politically correct) with two excellent bumperstickers:

        “I love cats. They taste just like chicken.”

        “I just got a gun for my wife. Best trade I ever made.”

        This caused a bit of a stir in the PROSM.

        – Austin

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