Ornstein and Mann link political rise of Trump to GOP’s long war on government

Political scientists Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann, who wrote “It’s Even Worse than It Looks,” a book about the recent dysfunction in Congress and its causes, have written a new article for Vox connecting the dysfunction over past years with the nomination of Donald Trump.

They have also – foolishly or bravely – attempted to look down the road to see what happens to the dysfunction if Hillary Clinton or, alternatively, Donald Trump, wins the presidency.

Their piece is headlined: “The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.” It begins:

Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party’s steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.

While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion. …

The Republican Party was about to nominate the most inexperienced, unpopular, and temperamentally unsuited major party presidential candidate in the history of American politics, and there was nothing the establishment could do about it beyond trying to contain the political damage.

I pretty much subscribe to the Ornstein-Mann thesis, which sometimes goes by the rubric “asymmetric polarization,” although my own analysis also relies on some of the inherent shortcomings of the U.S. system of government. Our system relies more on bipartisan compromise than any other system. In the absence of willingness to compromise, our system breaks down in a way that others would not, because the others have fewer chokepoints for legislation and most of them have more than two parties, which makes various coalitions possible. In a typical parliamentary system, the prime minister never vetoes a bill. And if the governing party or coalition cannot pass legislation, it triggers an election so the voters can put in a government that can govern.

But Ornstein and Mann focus more on comparing the U.S. government when it worked better to what is happening now.

As they use the term “asymmetric polarization,” it means that over recent decades, the two parties have sorted themselves out ideologically so that almost all Democrats are left of almost all Republicans, and there are not that many moderates. But the “asymmetric” piece means that one party – the Republicans — has moved further from the center and become more averse to compromise.

Ornstein and Mann recognize that “objective” journalism got in the way of many reporters describing the “asymmetric” piece of the polarization. They wrote:

The safe haven of false equivalence led the press to ignore one of the most consequential developments in contemporary American politics: the radicalization of the Republican Party. … We had seen the GOP go from a problem-solving center-right party to a problem-solving very conservative party — and then evolve into an obstructionist party intent on appeasing extreme forces inside and outside Congress.

In their book, they highlighted the rise of Newt Gingrich as a key development in turning the Republicans into the party that would no longer compromise, for fear of making the Democrats look like they were accomplishing anything. In the Vox piece, they wrote:

The [Gingrich] theory was that a deliberate strategy to make all government action in Washington look disastrous, whether by stopping legislation or delegitimizing the process and its products, would work against the party in power: the Democrats. Scandal politics, which vaulted Gingrich to prominence in the first place, could be hyped and exploited; see Benghazi.

The birther” movement was not explicitly embraced by party leaders, but it was encouraged; it was an indirect way to criticize the “African” president while also, incidentally, vaulting Donald Trump to prominence in the political realm.

We do not believe that party leaders themselves believed Obama was a secret Muslim, that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin was a terrorist, or that a Black Panther uprising was ever imminent. But those claims were cynically exploited to foster anger among base voters. …

Having worked to demonize the president as illegitimate and not loyal to America or American values, every subsequent compromise made by GOP leaders to keep the government open or to pass policy was by definition working with the enemy. …

All these forces created a massive backlash against the Republican Party leadership. From the beginning stages of the presidential nomination process for 2016, 60 to 70 percent of Republicans in polls opted for insurgent or outsider candidates, with 20 percent or less for insiders and establishment figures. In the end, the only two viable contenders were Ted Cruz, whose calling card was calling his own leader, Mitch McConnell, a liar on the Senate floor — and Donald Trump.

So, to recap, while the Gingrichian/Tea Party no-compromise, government-is-the-problem strategy may have been designed to hurt the Dems and help the Repubs, it also created a rising anger in the Republicans base against anyone who had any experience in or interest in governing and anyone who was interested in the old model, which required compromise. Back to their piece:

Consider the ironies: A tribal party ended up nominating a man who has a very loose connection to the party and has had as many party affiliations in the past as he has had wives. A party moving toward more strident right-wing ideology, reflected in the candidacy of Ted Cruz, chose a nominee who is against free trade, has a long history of pro-choice sentiment, boosts Social Security, Medicare, and Planned Parenthood, and can sound like a neo-isolationist.

In the end, the exploitation of anti-government sentiment by Republican leaders, and the active efforts on their part to make all government look corrupt and illegitimate, reached its logical conclusion. The Republican political establishment looked no less corrupt, weak, and illegitimate than the Democratic one, and the appeal of a rank outsider became greater.

What if Clinton wins?

Ornstein and Mann call a victory by Hillary Clinton more likely than a Trump victory. According to their analysis, that will strengthen the Ted Cruz/Freedom Caucus element of the Republican Party, which will argue that the Dems won because the Repubs didn’t nominate a real, pure conservative. That will loop right back into the old anti-compromise logic.

At the same time, they expect that, if Clinton wins:

Trumpist populists inside and outside Washington will attribute any Trump loss to the perfidy of the party establishment. Aided by the bevy of cable TV hosts, talk radio impresarios, and bloggers who thrive on chaos — they will spread the belief that Americans have been betrayed both by Democrats and by weak-kneed and corrupt Republican establishment leaders. They will continue to push nativist and protectionist policies.

And the establishment itself, divided over its level of support for Trump, battered by a horrible political year, targeted both by the purists and the populists, will have little traction to craft the kinds of policies that both fit its broader philosophy and can achieve meaningful compromises with Democrats.

In addition, Ornstein and Mann predict, the 2018 midterms will likely increase Republican power in Congress, which will increase the ability of the right to deliver more gridlock.

On the other hand, they write:

A Trump victory, unlikely but far from impossible, would not create a new GOP: The old problems we identified would remain, along with new ones. There is no way to predict how Trump, who has no discernible knowledge of public policy or the governing process but who has made stark pledges on a range of issues, would handle his presidency, but the differences between his stated policy preferences and those of party leaders in Congress are substantial. In any case, Democrats will have enough members in the Senate to filibuster his initiatives.

The last sentence of their piece is a real picker upper:

Anyone expecting a quick or clean resolution of this turmoil will be sorely disappointed.

Perhaps this is an apt moment to remind you that their book was titled: “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.”

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Comments (53)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 07/20/2016 - 04:04 pm.

    That should be:

    War on BIG government, right? I believe that’s the proper phrasing of the Right, excluding certain Republican Senators, that is.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/21/2016 - 08:35 am.

      Typically, the BIG government that Republicans want to cut are agencies charged with pollution regulations, work-place rules and safety regulations, financial regulations and oversight, and so forth. Oddly enough, that BIG government has acted as a counterforce to the perpetual predations of BIG business.

      The BIG government that funds and reinforces things such as BIG pharma, BIG agriculture, BIG defense is not such a target–again oddly enough.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/21/2016 - 09:15 am.

      Actually, it Should Be:

      “War on ‘BIG’ government.”

      As with everything in political discourse, the reality is not as obvious as it may seem. “Big government” means “programs or expenditures that will not benefit me, or people very much like me.” Hence the Tea Partiers’ calls to “keep the government out of my Medicare.”

      There are a couple of corollaries here. “Waste” can mean either any expenditure out of the speaker’s community (h/t Gerald Ford, who knew how to use irony). It can also mean some trivial line-item that can be played up to sound foolish. Remember the late Sen. Proxmire’s (D-Wis., just to get that out of the way) “Golden Fleece” awards? They will stand as the classic example.

      The term “limited government” that gets bandied about in an attempt to appear reasonable is not entirely as meaningless as one might think. It actually means everything that does not fall into the definition of “big government,” supra, as well as certain programs for which the speaker has no real enthusiasm but which would make them sound like a heartless jerk if they advocated eliminating them (not to worry: when the “limited government” fan gets in office, the programs will remain, but nbe so drastically underfunded as to make them as good as gone).

      Hope this helps.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/21/2016 - 11:03 am.

        Never sure

        if my thoughts are being chastised or simply extended by others. Yes, Proxmire’s lists were always fun and fair. In any case, I’m pretty sure Republicans are not against all government. They certainly spend a lot of time and money pushing their products, as do Democrats their pet projects. I’m truly amazed at how much public and press denigration the Red brigade generally receives, except in those years they are overwhelmingly elected to majority rule by our nation’s voters.

        I’ve been watching a bunch of old westerns lately, perhaps hiding from the complexities of 2016. In any case, I do understand current social absolutism to be rooted in our tradition of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Those 1950s plots were simplistic, as simplistic as too much 2016 rhetoric remains.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/21/2016 - 12:19 pm.

          Black Hats

          I agree with you that many folks love to see Heroes and Villains.

          The facts are pretty clear that government controlled <10% of the US GDP ~100 years ago which means that individual citizens were able to make more of their own choices with 90+% of the money.

          And now thanks to actions taken by both parties over the past century, the government gets to divvy out ~35% of the GDP. Meaning that we citizens have less individual control, having only ~65% of the money.


          And now anyone who wants to slow or reverse this long term trend is deemed to be trying to eliminate government. They do like their villains.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/21/2016 - 01:48 pm.

            100 Years Ago

            Industry polluted the air and water with impunity.

            Roads were largely unpaved.

            Health and safety laws, where they existed, were enforced poorly, at best.

            Racial and sex discrimination was legal, where it wasn’t mandated.

            One year later, the US Army learned it was so poorly equipped that recruits for the First World War had to train with broomsticks.

            But hey, people got to keep more of their money. Freedom!

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/21/2016 - 06:04 pm.

              Too Much

              I don’t know of anyone who wants to go back to under 10%.

              However do we really need a government that controls where 35+% of where our GDP is spent?

              You know my view… We should give them 33% and demand that they improve their effectiveness and quality of performance… Unfortunately the same folks who are okay with a high cost of government are resistant to holding government and public employees accountable for achieving goals for less.

              As I often ask… What percentage of our GDP are you willing to give to the politicians and bureaucrats? And how much do you want direct control over?

              • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/22/2016 - 01:52 pm.

                The Number

                And my answer to your oft-asked question is: Enough.

                I don’t have a number. Any number that is picked in advance of a given time is necessarily arbitrary. You say 33%? Okay, but why is that necessarily better than any other number? Does it increase in wartime? Recession/depression?

                In a representative democracy, we still have indirect control over the public fisc. “Politicians and bureaucrats” don’t come out of the ether, they are put there as representatives of the popular will, however convoluted that path may seem.

                “I don’t know of anyone who wants to go back to under 10%.” I could introduce you to a few of my hard-core libertarian friends, if you like. Yes, it’s hard to take some of their ideas seriously.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/23/2016 - 12:45 am.


                  I am okay with running on a 4 year average and making exceptions in times of war. That should pretty much take care of fluctuations. Of course it means we would vary between ~28% and 38% depending on the state of the economy.

                  We are discussing the topic elsewhere and I am anxiously awaiting an answer to my questions noted below. The unfortunate reality that large organizations with fuzzy goals can spend as much money as you give them. (until they go bankrupt) There are always hobbies to pursue, departments to form, raises to give, bonus to give, etc. What controls does this organization have to encourage politicians, bureaucrats and public employees, etc to “do more with less”?

                  There is never “enough”. I just did a little research regarding Federal pensions and retirement benefits… It is incredible what they get… And Obama just vetoed a bill that would have limited the federally reimbursed office expenses of past living Presidents to $200,000 per year. Of course since he is going to become one of them, there is a HUGE Conflict of Interest here.

                  Now all of our retired Presidents are Rich due to inheritance, book deals, speaking deals, etc… Don’t you think $200,000 for an office would be “Enough”…

                  • Submitted by Bill Willy on 07/24/2016 - 02:06 pm.

                    Gov should run like a business

                    Assuming that you work for a business (or even if you own the business you work for) what would happen to that business if it limited its overall “cost of doing business” to 28% to 38% of its gross revenue?

                    I’m not aware of ANY business that’s capable of doing that. If you are I’d be more than interested in knowing which ones they are and how they do it.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/24/2016 - 07:03 pm.

                      Apples and Watermelon

                      Though interesting, your comparison would only work if we all worked for the entity known as government. As employees work for their companies.

                      The reality is that the government is more like a a support system / trade association. It is there to enable trade, maintain law and order, support education, maintain defense, etc. All the things that enable the American Private sector to operate. And paying that organization as much as we do is some pretty high dues.

                    • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/26/2016 - 08:49 am.

                      Important Capital Consideration

                      An important advantage of government (national, not state) with respect to corporate operations is the ability of government to operate for a very long time in deficit. Eventually these operations may be threatened by policies of less burdened nations, particularly with respect to trade advantages and currency strength.

                      If one believes that the essence of capital is land, specifically raw and underdeveloped land and its productive potential, the ability of prolonged deficit operations by government may be better understood. For the most part, business operations are highly constrained by deficits and threatened by ultimate bankruptcy or other mechanism of reorganization. The annual working capital transfer from business to government (taxes) is therefore a reasonable point of discussion (on both sides) in a capitalistic democracy. Absent the extreme reality of revolution or war (losing, that is), government can generally prevail and endure.

                      At what effectiveness government can endure is open to questions–economic, political, social; thus, the essence of our partisan debates within democratic forms of national organization.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/26/2016 - 10:12 am.


                      It is the burden issue that concerns me. The reality is that Americans love “low cost high quality” products and services. We have proven it for the last ~40 years, as our trade deficit shows. Therefore the jobs move to places that support this.

                      And yet most Liberal folks seem indifferent to how much our government expenses increase the cost of doing business in America. I mean if the government spends $1 Trillion more than required to fulfill its role productively, this has to be paid by the business and us workers. Which of course drives up the cost of goods and services with high domestic content.

                      Folks keep saying they want to keep more jobs here, while demanding low cost /high quality goods /services, and encouraging high cost government… It is quite puzzling.

                      Other than the over compensation of public employees (ie big pensions), the protection of poor workers, the over lapping departments, the lack of modernization / head count reduction, unclear goals, etc, which add to our burden… The Huge National Debt is a burden that will feel like a massive anchor around our necks if interest rates start climbing.

                    • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/26/2016 - 03:31 pm.

                      “Crowding out at less than full employment”


                      A tiny bit geeky, but fairly understandable. I’d file this under “Unintended Consequences.”
                      And then, of course, money supply issues come into play, as well.

                      Sidebar: I still find it rather curious that the EU established its socio/political model as “The United States of Europe,” with common currency, open borders, common language (English) for the most part, and ultimately common government centralized in the EU Parliament. In the past 8 years of Obama Administration policy, I have observed a U.S. domestic policy swing more in the European fashion than expected. Little has been written about internal Washington pressures to prevent Brexit. Now we see it being slow walked by nearly all parties. I’m beginning to believe this process may be influenced far more by Washington than reported pretty much anywhere. I guess the “Leave” victory really upset our transatlantic apple cart in some way yet to be revealed to us in U.S.

                      In any case, many current American liberal proposals of minimum wage, national health programs, social support expansion, etc. are clearly in the European fashion. What the unstated agreements supporting this “policy merger” (I guess) might be, I do not know. Perhaps somebody believes we all can restrain China by these common policies…or, perhaps, China has found the EU model much to its liking. They were there buying corporate production assets well before they were here, now doing the same.

                      Just don’t know which way this teeter really tots.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/27/2016 - 11:48 am.


                      Speaking of unintended consequences… It seems to me that American Consumers are heading towards voting for higher prices and less choice. Look at all the support that they are giving to the anti-free trade candidates…

                      This is an interesting example of what tariffs and import taxes can lead to.

                      It may increase the local wages some, but it may increase the local costs more…

                    • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/27/2016 - 05:53 pm.


                      There is really not an an angel named “free trade;” however, we try to keep global trade going with minimal dysfunction. Trade wars benefit no party as they continue…we know that. Tariffs usually begin as protection, then spread in retaliation, ultimately causing economic dislocations…and war, sometimes, as history demonstrates.

                      In today’s more specialized national economies, no country can truly re-establish anything close to an independent generalized economy of self-sufficiency. Effective trade policy does minimize international anxiety. Embargos and boycotts, the extreme measures of retaliation, serve no positive purpose. Sometimes these days, the threat of such might still temper outcomes. Imagine what would result from another OPEC oil embargo or a China boycott by the U.S. We did successfully counter recent oil price dislocations by developing oil sand production here in North America. We could never fuel our full economy on that, however.
                      We should also spend a moment imagining what we could no longer purchase at Target, Walmart and other national chains if we stopped importing Chinese goods. Somehow I cannot picture American citizens queuing for “bread day” or waiting for “washing machine month,” as Muscovite masses did 30 years ago.

                      Political rhetoric of either strain gathers votes, little more.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/21/2016 - 02:02 pm.

          “I’m pretty sure Republicans are not against all government.”

          Of course not. There are a lot of government programs from which individuals may benefit, individually and collectively. There are also a number that can be milked for profit, and are therefore widely supported by elements of both parties (charter schools spring to mind in this context).

          Republicans have, however, made denunciation of government a shibboleth that candidates must utter. It is a reflexive distaste/mistrust that conveniently ignores the benefits that they receive (even the non-monetary benefits). Once upon a time, Republicans understood this. Ever since the administration of Reagan (who, appropriately enough, seemed to draw a lot of his thinking from old westerns, and 1950s movies with simplistic plots), the simple “government always bad” thinking has dominated.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/21/2016 - 04:06 pm.


            Nicely noted, RB. That may be the first time ever used in these pages, unless previously by you. Well done!

            There is also that prevailing political caution to never deal with intellectuals when pushing politics. All others, apparently, are deemed to live in a world of black or white contrast. Dealing with those who spend their time dissecting the grey scales is time consuming and very frustrating, don’t you know.

            So, as for Reagan: Maybe his popularity was directly related to his simplification of complexity. Most people are smart enough to know what they hear has shades of meaning. They just like to know exactly where their leaders stand. I learned long ago that most people just like to drink iced tea, not brew it or analyze the leaves.
            These also seem to be the happiest people among us, just keeping their private lives of family, work and fun unencumbered by stuff they can’t control. I’ve always admired such comfortably insulated citizens who just do what needs to be done. Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much never enjoyed that small world of social perspective, at least not since 1960.

            And, that’s likely a big reason for watching old westerns this week, especially those filmed in black and white.
            Saw some good Glenn Ford stuff yesterday, cleanly scripted and well-acted.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/21/2016 - 06:28 pm.

            Human Motivation

            So I’ll bite, what do you think would encourage our current politicians, bureaucrats, and public employees to use the government revenues very effectively to meet well prioritized goals in order to maximize our public good and keep America a world leader?

            Do you think that the politicians, bureaucrats and public employees are special kinds of humans who are not concerned about making more, working less, job security, pursuing their own passions, empire building, etc? They are somehow inherently focused on common goals, self sacrificing, natural team players, the good of the citizens and tax payers, etc?

            My view of course is that they are just like us. Therefore they will spend as much as we give them, accept higher compensation/ benefits, grow their departments, seek their highest level of incompetency, etc. Fortunately our companies need to stay focused, efficient, effective and provide good products /services in order to stay in business. Therefore wages are managed, poor performers are fired, ineffective departments/ products/ services are killed, etc.

            Personally I think the USA needs to stay focused, efficient, effective and provide good products /services in order to stay in business and in the lead. The problem is that there really is no incentive for government to do so, and it bodes poorly for our future.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/23/2016 - 11:49 am.


              Without going into this in great detail, I will say that self-interest is only one factor motivating human behavior. Humans are political animals, and that implies the necessity of cooperation for the sake of cooperation (there is a fascinating developing field of economics that looks at the interaction of evolutionary biology and economic behavior). Humans are also motivated by a sense of morality to do the right thing by their fellow beings. Homo economicus is just a caricature that presents a gross oversimplification of our behavior.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/23/2016 - 06:48 pm.


                Based on the very low percentage that most people give to charity or volunteer, I think people are pretty good at ignoring Jiminy Cricket, or maybe it is our ability to rationalize that we will do more “when we are better off” or “maybe next year”.

                “Humans are also motivated by a sense of morality to do the right thing by their fellow beings.”

                I agree whole heartedly that Politicians, Bureaucrats and Public Employees work together to attain their goals. Unfortunately it is often done in the mode of “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.

                This does not necessarily mean something good or productive happens. I once went to a School Board listening session where a Teacher came in very excited to ask the Board to build a wind powered generator at his school because it would be green and give him a great teaching tool. Thankfully the board said NO.

                The challenge is that there are 10’s of thousands of well meaning public personnel who have incredible ideas for spending money on their passions. That does not mean that these will help us citizens.

                When my oldest was in 6th grade she had a science Teacher who loved Monarch Butterflies and speny a lot of time on them. She truly thought this was important. Thankfully she was forced to change before my other daughters got there.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/25/2016 - 11:29 am.

                  Interesting, Indeed

                  Not all cooperation or community endeavors involve giving money or volunteering Charitable donations and volunteering are largely the province of the better-off, who can afford the time or money. Poor people still contribute to the community in other ways.

                  “I agree whole heartedly that Politicians, Bureaucrats and Public Employees work together to attain their goals. Unfortunately it is often done in the mode of ‘If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’.” And the private sector is different . . .how? Yes, it’s private money, but our participation in, or control by, it is not voluntary. Are those in the private sector inherently more virtuous than those in the public sector?

                  “The challenge is that there are 10’s of thousands of well meaning public personnel who have incredible ideas for spending money on their passions. That does not mean that these will help us citizens.” Are police and firefighters motivated primarily by money? How about soldiers?

                  Thank God children are being kept from learning about wind generators, or from teachers who would use butterflies as teaching tools (teacher enthusiasm is probably a plot by teachers’ unions, anyway).

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/25/2016 - 09:05 pm.


                    I agree that the people in the Public and Private sector are similar. I think that was my point.

                    However in the Private sector Capitalism forces companies to be competitive, effective, productive, high quality, etc. Unfortunately the Public system does not have those forces to balance the normal human desires, behaviors, etc.

                    Being from SW MN, I am happy to have kids learn about wind powered generators. However a field trip to Great River Energy is likely more cost effective.

                    By the way, we do have a choice to buy some land and live a subsistence lifestyle. Most of choose to enter into the world of capitalism and trade for our personal benefit.

                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/26/2016 - 03:46 pm.


                      “By the way, we do have a choice to buy some land and live a subsistence lifestyle. Most of choose to enter into the world of capitalism and trade for our personal benefit.” I would say a substantial portion of us have it thrust upon us. Frankly, modern “consumer” capitalism v. subsistence agriculture doesn’t seem like much of a choice.

                      By the way, since you are acknowledging the stark limits of the idea of consumer choice, I recommend Tom Slee’s book “No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart.” Consumer choice is pretty illusory.

                    • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/26/2016 - 07:40 pm.

                      One very tiny disagreement…

                      I believe most of us adopt our socio/economic philosophy through assimilation.

                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/27/2016 - 04:05 pm.

                      Foisted v. assimilation

                      Potato, potahto. I don’t know that it’s a conscious choice for most of us. Besides, the range of choices is circumscribed by culture, background, class, etc.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/26/2016 - 10:01 pm.

                      Two Words

                      Personal Responsibility…

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/23/2016 - 09:46 am.

            Hi, John & RB

            Thanks for this thoughtful conversation. Just want to check back with you guys. John’s issue of government efficiency is something we all hear about and often attempt to confront–not soluble, it seems. Organization of any productive venture using a bureaucratic model affords certain efficiencies but also creates levels of dysfunction not quickly resolved.

            It seems I’ve heard as many public employees grouse about such stuff as any other citizen. If we recognize that government functions are mostly a matter of large scale process rather than specific product, we better understand the good and bad. Generally, government is pretty good at really big stuff of critical consequence like defense. We all recognize that. I have become more certain than ever the key issue here is motivation to change the model where possible, if possible.

            I’m thinking now of IBM’s truly amazing corporate adjustments caused, in their case, by severe and prolonged market constraints dictated by Washington’s anti-trust actions back in the 1970s. At a time when the mainframe computer was very much the data processing tool, IBM was restrained from further growth. The biggest international name in computing was truly in danger of statutory break up, perhaps demise.

            During the protracted years of litigation, IBM was forced to finally consider its true business identity. “What business were they truly in?” as the old MBA fundamental question poses. Their supply chain began to break up around them, creating degrees of havoc in smaller communities of industrial park manufacturing shops. That was truly an unintended consequence of these forced legal constraints during the long period of litigation argument [eventually simply abandoned by Washington, by the way].

            What the world received eventually was perhaps the biggest life-changing and now ubiquitous items ever, the personal computer (the “PC”) and MS DOS. IBM continued mainframe production, but of far more efficient and compact systems. Not only did the company revolutionize our personal lives, it also dramatically changed the concept of what once was the “main frame” by turning toward smaller more versatile business computing technology.

            Why did IBM change our lives in various ways of greater efficiency? They were essentially forced to change, or dissolve. What similar forces might prompt our government bureaucracies to improve in similar dramatic fashion? Absent some global Sherman Act enforcement, what power exists to make the United States government a more effective system? Revolution? No, that would certainly be external pressure somewhat similar to anti-trust action, but not likely productive in motivating internal changes. One might argue that the threat of nuclear annihilation once motivated better behavior of certain national bureaucracies, but that’s far too nebulous for me. Our “Vote” might also be considered a share of common stock in government, I suppose. What it does to prompt more efficient government, I don’t really know. It does generally create more government production, not necessarily of efficient design, however.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/23/2016 - 07:03 pm.


              One of my smart hard working co-workers dreamed of being an air traffic controller. So much so that he left his engineer job and tried it. He made it ~6 months before he had had it with the bureaucracy, seniority, internal politics, waste, etc. Their loss is our gain since he is now back working as a Project Engineer at my company.

              I am always amazed at what Big Government supporters are willing to accept in the Public Sector that they would never allow in the Private Sector. Somehow they think that the employees in one group are self sacrificing saints and the other are greedy self centered individuals. When in reality they are all just people trying to live a successful life.

              People reading this may think I am being critical of the people in the Public Sector. This is not the case, I am actually being critical of the system that allows this MASSIVE ENTITY with millions of employees to operate with few measurable goals and/or measures of accountability. We give them $6+ TRILLION per year… How do we know if they are using it effectively? If they could do far more with that money?

  2. Submitted by Steve Vigoren on 07/20/2016 - 07:54 pm.

    Not always right;

    Reagan’s First Inaugural: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

  3. Submitted by Roy Everson on 07/21/2016 - 09:33 am.

    Gone to the dark side

    The authors describe a party that essentially rejects democracy, rejects the values of the Declaration of Independence, and enables the creeping plutocracy we are becoming. Republicans rarely admit it, and unfortunately are rarely called out for it. They claim they want America’s enemies to be clearly identified and labeled so they can be targeted for destruction. They might start with themselves.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/25/2016 - 11:07 am.


    Those guys Ornstein and Mann Don’t miss a thing do they? I mean it’s not like anyone saw this coming back in the 80’s or anything. Oh, wait…

    This is the problem with tepid liberals pretending that they’re as liberal as it gets or at least as liberal as any reasonable person could be. The toxic nature of magical thinking and anti-government mentalities has been obvious from the start. Progressives sounded the alarms back in the 80’s but the “centrists” of the DLC and the media went to extraordinary lengths at times to ignore the obvious. Are we now supposed to pretend that a decades old common sense observation is a timely insight today?

    I hate to tell you this but it’s too late. Tepid liberal realizations at this point are decades late and trillions short. Instead of rejecting anti-government magical thinking democrats like the Clinton’s bought into it and THAT’S the real problem. Without the liberal buy-in back in the late 80’s this anti-government nonsense would have died a natural death at the hands of common sense. This isn’t over, so-called liberals just sank a whole host of basic liberal initiatives under the assumption that “govment” can’t possibly run a health care system, provide college educations, or build infrastructure without private sector expertise.

    The thesis of asymmetric polarization is severely flawed because polarization requires two poles on opposite ends of some spectrum. What we’ve actually seen in this country is the collapse of the “spectrum” into one pole on the right. You can continue to have fierce competition between two parties in a two party system but that necessarily mean you have “polarization”. In order to have polarization you need a right AND a left, we’ve had no “left” since the late 1980’s. The Democratic Leadership Council and the “New Democrats” effectively took over the democratic party before Bill Clinton got elected. You can’t have “polarization” without “poles” and that’s not one party that believes is dismantling the government and drowning it, and another party that believes in dismantling the government but not quite so much. Remember, it was Al Gore not a republican that oversaw the most extensive privatization of government services in US history, not a republican. Jimmy Carter to this day claims that his biggest accomplishment as president was all the deregulation he pushed through Congress.

    The political crises in this country isn’t about polarization, it’s about elitism. The story of the last few decades isn’t so much a story about the conservative victories as it is a story about the rise of the elite. From Reagan to Obama we’ve had government by the elite for the elite of the elite and THAT’S what has some many American’s pissed off. Not only has elitism damaged and destroyed millions of lives (literally AND economically) it’s been an abject disaster in terms of basic problem solving. From education to global warming and transportation the level of sheer incompetence has been breath taking. The elite response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 was a disaster that we’ll be dealing with for decades. The elite management of the economy has nearly been an outright assault on everyone but the elite. It’s not about left and right, it’s about up and down.

    Finally people have to understand how irritating it is to progressives when tepid or “centrist” liberals show up years or even decades AFTER the fact with these “insights”. It only makes it worse when “centrists” show up with these “insights” years or decades after telling progressives they’re the ones “out of touch” with “reality”. You understand why people like Hillary Clinton have no credibility and no hope of credibility with so many liberals and progressives after decades of pretending to have a monopoly on reality. You simply don’t get to claim that YOU know what’s “realistic” and what isn’t with a record of being wrong for decades. You don’t get to claim the mantle of political “wisdom” after spending decades in denial or worse as a champion of bad conservative ideas and policies.

    We told you back in the 80’s that we needed sustainable energy policies based on renewables and severly curtailed emissions. We told you that foreign policies based on regime change had been a disaster and needed to be outlawed. We told you that back to basic authoritarian education policies based on 1940’s education models were a really bad idea and that turning schools over to private sector entrepreneurs was a waste of resources. We told you that economic policy needed to be based on the fortunes of the middle class not the wealthy. We told you banks and corporations could not be trusted. I could go on but every time we made one of these common sense observations you told us we were idealists out of touch with reality who could never get anything done. And so it goes. So after decades of stalled and rolled back initiatives, and paralysis, perpetual crises, gross incompetence and emerging disasters, are you finally waking up?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/25/2016 - 09:21 pm.


      Your perspective is interesting and I always find the progressive / liberal divide confusing.

      My perspective is a bit different. I think the Progressives had implemented many of their “central control” ideas and society deemed them to be failures. Therefore the pendulum that had swung far to the left was pulled back a bit towards the center.

      If you want to see the pros / cons of central control, check out China.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/26/2016 - 11:06 am.

        Flawed history

        “My perspective is a bit different. I think the Progressives had implemented many of their “central control” ideas and society deemed them to be failures. Therefore the pendulum that had swung far to the left was pulled back a bit towards the center.”

        History isn’t a matter of perspective per se, historical facts exist. You’re historical perspective is simply not supported by the facts. In fact your very definition of “progressivism” as a proponent of central control is entirely mistaken. But as Orenstein and Mann point out, the conservative project has for decades now been based on incoherent historical constructs and toxic stereotypes.

        I think one of the lessons we need to learn here is that there’s little to be gained by arguing with people who make up their own facts. Rather we need to work around their obstructionism, solve problems, and mover forward.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/26/2016 - 12:55 pm.


          Airlines and Banks were highly regulated. It did not work, therefore they were deregulated.

          Giving the power to the Public Education bureaucrats left tens of millions of kids behind, so we enacted targets and accountability measures.

          Ignoring violent world leaders and terrorists led to death and mayhem in the USA, so we attacked.

          We tried a war on poverty and learned that handouts bred dependency, so we passed the personal responsibility and work opportunity act.

          Now I realize that you want to double down on these failed attempts, however I hope we do not.

          • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 07/26/2016 - 01:25 pm.


            If you want to talk history, you need to make sure you have your facts correct.

            The “modern” set of airline regulations was passed during the Administration of well-known liberal Dwight Eisenhower (creation of the FAA, establishment of national air traffic control, pilot licensing, flight inspection standards, etc.). The Carter Administration — championed by Ted Kennedy in the Senate — deregulated the airlines, and it did so largely over the objections of the large airlines. (And are you seriously asserting — post-2008 — that bank deregulation has been some sort of glowing success?)

            Who, exactly, ignored terrorists? Oh yeah, the guy who when told “Al-Qaeda Plans to Strike in U.S.”, told the briefer he had covered his butt and then went out and cut some brush on his ranch. When will those progressives ever learn?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/26/2016 - 03:42 pm.


              It is likely that the Airlines and their Unions did like their near monopoly status before deregulation. No low cost airlines to compete with… It is we customers and citizens who pay more when monopolies are in place whether they Private or Public. That is my point.

              Please remember that I believe that American greed by many parties caused the 2009 meltdown, not just the banks. Bubbles grow and pop, and they always will. That is why conservative folks were taught to save for a rainy day, not carry much debt and look for buying opportunities after the crash. Hopefully the current generations learn something from the Great Recession as my grand parents did during the Great Depression. Though I doubt they will since it was so constrained and short lived.

              I wonder what the Progressives would have done different with that info, since apparently they are against intervening over seas. Would they have ever dreamed that airplanes were going to used as missiles. I kind of doubt it.

              • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 07/26/2016 - 04:25 pm.

                What’s your point again?

                No, that’s not at all the point you were making above. Your point was that it was progressive policies that were responsible for over-regulation and America’s foreign policy weakness and that we had to swing the pendulum back.

                Yet, it was progressives that took down the regulation scheme that was signed by a Republican President. So your whole strawman argument falls apart.

                Just like your foreign policy point. It wasn’t Janet Reno that dropped counter-terrorism of the Justice Department’s list of top priorities before 9/11, it was John Ashcroft. It was one those progressive non-interveners that dropped a Seal Team inside Pakistan to kill bin Laden, while George W. Bush refused to provide the American troops required to get him when he was cornered at Tora Bora.

                Heck, even the idea of “airplanes as missiles” wasn’t new. The CIA and the Philippines broke up a plot in 1995 that envisioned just that very concept. So the notion that no one could have possibly imagined such a thing is bogus.

                It’s fun and easy to argue using stereotypes and talk radio tropes, but it ain’t reality.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/26/2016 - 06:32 pm.


                  I am still trying to understand Paul’s difference between Progressives and Liberals… See my comment at the bottom.

                  What do each of the different groups on the Left stand for?
                  How are they different? How are they similar?

                  From Paul’s comments it seems that Progressives support a lot of Domestic Government intervention, regulation and control, highly progressive taxes and little foreign intervention. Seems a bit like the DSA.

  5. Submitted by Steve Rose on 07/26/2016 - 10:52 am.

    1996 State of the Union Address

    “The era of big government is over!”

    President Bill Clinton also stated, to great applause, that we need to give the American people a government that lives within its means. Anyone else remember this?

    Short clip of the address:


    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/26/2016 - 01:07 pm.


      This is exactly what I was referring to in my comment about the DLC adopting republican policies and collapsing the US political spectrum into the right. If we unpack what this actually meant at the time we see that Clinton was adopting Reaganism.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/26/2016 - 02:03 pm.

    Getting back to Bill Clinton

    I remind everyone that the progressive critique of the two party system is and was that you basically have one party with two different factions, one coin with two sides, we called it a “duopoly”.

    As democrats abandoned liberal initiatives in the 1990’s it was to their advantage to play the “polarization” card because that apparent polarization was an effective retort to the duopoly accusation. (think back to all those Nader and Jesse Jackson campaigns) It was hard to see how gridlock was a benefit to either party and that fact was distracting enough to discredit the duopoly thesis in a lot of people’s minds. And of course the democrats had perfected the bait and switch by the mid 90s so you always liberal rhetoric during campaigns but elite policies once elected.

    There were however a plethora of observers who kept pointing out that the US elite were suffering from no such gridlock and seemed to get what they needed whether by virtue of gridlock or by the occasional miraculous bipartisan breakthrough. The biggest indicator was the increasing wealth disparity that began in the mid-late 80s and continues to this day.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/26/2016 - 04:11 pm.


      Is this how it moves from Liberal to Conservative in your view then?

      – Democratic Socialists /Progressives
      – Liberals
      – Moderate Liberals

      – Undecided

      – Moderate Conservatives
      – Conservatives
      – Tea Party Conservatives

      If so it seems there is quite a bit of air between a Liberal and a Conservative.

      • Submitted by chuck holtman on 07/27/2016 - 10:53 am.

        Your labels lack meaning. How about this

        Left of center:

        Radical collectivism
        Communism (not the Soviet type)
        Socialism (the theory)
        Identity liberalism

        “The Center” (optimized mixed economy, optimized social insurance, managed returns to capital, education for critical thinking, true conservatism toward socially destabilizing phenomena)

        Right of center:

        Progressivism (Sanders)
        Redistributional liberalism (Democratic base, Clinton)
        “Free market” authoritarianism (old Republican base)
        State capitalism (e.g. Soviet Union)
        “Mad Max” economic libertarianism
        Nihilism (new Republican base)

        Lacking any accepted definition, this continuum is oriented on the variable of control over social decisionmaking, similar perhaps to the Gini index for wealth distribution. At the far left, heuristically, all social decisions are by consensus. At the far right, all social decisions are made by one person or at the limit, like the black hole event horizon, by no one as authoritarianism collapses into nihilism. Note of course that the range of present social discourse is essentially all right of center.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/27/2016 - 03:24 pm.


          Interesting perspective but I think your parallax is showing. I think most people would see Northern European (Sanders) countries as pretty financially Liberal / Progressive and Left of Center. By my vernacular you are sitting in the LL seats.

          My view is based around “who gets to choose where your money is spent”. The government or yourself.

          We know that today the government forcibly collects ~15.5% of every Americans earnings up to $120K. The government then decides where it will be invested, when you can get it back, and how much you will get back. Seems pretty far tipped toward gov’t control.

          This means that a person making $100K is forced to pay $15,500 of their income into the SS and Medicare Trust Fund in hopes that they will get more back out later.

          Now I am not really against this because many Americans have shown an inability to be responsible enough to save and buy insurance. Forced savings and insurance seems an unfortunate necessity.

  7. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 07/26/2016 - 09:25 pm.

    RepuIblicans and government

    Here’s the deal: Virtually ALL Republicans concede the need for government, It is SO much better than who-has-the-biggest-gun anarchy.

    The problem comes with:

    It is generally inefficient and wasteful–whether we are talking entitlements or military
    It is WAY too subject to cronyism–both Dem & Repub.
    It is VERY MUCH PRONE to curtailing liberties. Some may be liberties you don’t than other people ought to have–but liberties that for the most part should not matter to you. (Smoking pot, deciding who to bake a cake for, who to marry, how many and what type of guns I may own, ad infinitum.

    Hence the need to keep it small and watch it VERY closely.

    It just drives me nuts that so many people think ‘the government is my friend.’ It is NOT.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/26/2016 - 10:11 pm.


      Excellent explanation.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/26/2016 - 10:44 pm.

      The republican myth

      The problem with Dennis’s republicans is that they simply cannot fathom the fact that there are different types of government, not just “government”. Therefore this is a little more than a stereotype of government rather than an actual system that actually exists. The entire mentality is based on the bizarre notion that a Nazi government and a liberal democracy share the exact same characteristics because they’re both governments. Many republicans actually don’t believe in democratic governments, and on a basic level don’t really believe they live in a democracy, they’ll even tell you once and while this is a “republic” as if there’s a difference. Liberal democracies are NOT prone to curtailing liberties, they have been expanding those liberties for 200+ years. The people most prone to curtailing liberties in this country are republicans. All this talk about “liberty” is rarely more than a thinly veiled attempt to curtail the liberties of others and apply authoritarian policies.

      The rejection of liberal democracy leads republicans into a bizarre zero-sum notion of “liberty” wherein liberty cannot be expanded to someone without taking it away from others. In essence, republicans have no coherent concept of “liberty” much the same way fundamentalists have no coherent concept of religion. With a rational concepts of democracy and liberty you’re never going to get coherent concepts of government.

      Again, any notion of government based on size is simply incoherent. In liberal democracies governments are as big as they need to be in order to perform the functions citizens want them to perform. Those functions are determined by voters and elected representatives. Whenever you try to talk to proponents of small government about what you want or don’t want the government to actually do they simply start whining about taxes and that’s as far as it goes. Small government proponents have never been able to point a functioning example of their model and every nation on the planet with an affluent population that enjoy substantial personal liberties has a “large” government. Somalia is not the land of freedom and prosperity some would have you believe.

      Models of government based on “size” can’t even tell us how they actually measure the “size” of a government, it’s an incoherent principle pretending to be a measurement of some kind.

      Now by “republican” I’m not talking about everyone who votes republican, I’m talking about the Party leaders and those who support them.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/27/2016 - 08:06 am.


        I always love your Somalia side note. I will give the best example of a country that thrived and maintained law and order when governmental costs were less.


        Now it is true that people had to take personal responsibility for getting an education, getting a job, buying insurance, saving for a rainy day, saving for retirement, etc. And if they didn’t or things went bad they would need to ask for charity. And the charities could then judge their lifestyle to determine if they were truly unfortunate or if their pain was self induced.

        Whereas now the government forces us all to pay much higher taxes in order to ensure the irresponsible, lazy and/or unlucky will receive money, healthcare, food, etc and not be reliant on the charity of others.

        If you doubt this. Please try to explain to the govt that you feel you should have the freedom to not pay 15+% for FICA because you want the freedom to invest it elsewhere.

        • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 07/27/2016 - 09:04 am.

          What is freedom?

          If your definition of freedom is government spending as a percentage of GDP, you’re missing the point. The Founding Fathers weren’t upset with Britain because they allowed their spending to cross some arbitrary threshold.

          Sure, government spending was lower in 1900 than it was today. But, then again, women couldn’t vote. Non-whites faced rampant government (and private) discrimination. Child labor was rampant until the Great Depression. Member of the LGBT community? Good luck trying to live your life openly. If you couldn’t find charity to help you in times of trouble, you died. (And many did!)

          We’re far more free today than we were back then.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/27/2016 - 11:37 am.


            Remember the Nolan diagrams. There are 2 aspects to freedom.

            I do agree that many people correctly have more personal freedoms. Of course often that comes at the loss of some one else’s freedom. Be the Gay Couple being free to Marry and the Christian Florist forced to serve them against his beliefs. People being free to buy assault weapons and people being killed. People being free to walk away from their mortgages with little pain, and all of us paying more because of it.

            On the economic axis there is no doubt that we have moved Left. As I noted, we are all forced to fund the “government charities” whether we agree with them or not. And if single payer healthcare is ever passed, then we will lose our choice regarding that also.

            Regarding the Founding Fathers… Remember that rallying cry… No more taxation without representation. I think you underestimate how important the paying too much and getting too little factored into the revolution.

            • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 07/27/2016 - 02:08 pm.

              Narrow view

              Are you “more free” if we let you bleed out on the sidewalk because you don’t have health insurance? Your taxes help to ensure your freedom in that case — and many others.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/28/2016 - 05:56 pm.


                If you choose to not carry health insurance, you made a free choice.

                Now who should bear the consequences of your choice?

                Should the responsible people who pay their insurance premiums pay more in taxes to cover your poor choices?

                Usually we work hard to ensure one person’s freedom does not impact another person’s freedom. Yet in this case many seem happy to charge Bob for Bill’s choice.

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