The Buzz

Ornstein and Mann's Flawed History

Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, writing in the Washington Post’s “Outlook,” declare it’s simply wrong to blame both sides for congressional gridlock. No, they say, every shred of blame goes to the Republicans. The GOP has become an “insurgent outlier…ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science….”

It’s difficult to resist the conclusion that these political analysts have identified themselves as ideological liberals whose political sensibility springs from the same source as that of, say, Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann. It isn’t just their slam on the current congressional GOP but also their historical narrative that places them in such company.

They blame two people—former Speaker Newt Gingrich, portrayed as willing to stoop to recurrent ethics allegations to get a Republican majority in the House, and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, originator of the anti-tax “pledge” signed by so many Republicans. Meanwhile, pristine Democrats either didn’t know what hit them or were stunned into “overreactions that enraged Republicans and united them to vote against Democratic initiatives.”

This is not serious history. The fact is that the House under Democratic control (for four decades) had become a sump of petty corruption, which isn’t surprising with so much entrenched power over so long a period of time. (Power corrupts, guys.) Consider the so-called “House Bank scandal,” the Post Office scandal (which helped send Dan Rostenkowski to jail), and other such petty abuses of power. And, more important, consider how the entrenched Democrats used restrictive floor rules and “king of the Hill” voting procedures to thwart serious Republican participation in debates.

As for Norquist, Messrs. Mann and Ornstein can’t seem to grasp the fact that tax policy is a major national issue, tied to ever-growing government. This reality, and the massive debt burden looming on the horizon like Godzilla, is a much larger contributor to today’s gridlock than any descent into mindlessness by one party. Perhaps the writers could tell us what the country should do about that rather than succumbing to this howler of an analysis.