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‘Liberated’ authors Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein forsake burden of nonpartisan credibility

It's Even Worse Than it LooksAs they wrote their current book about political dysfunction in Washington, titled “It’s Even Worse than It Looks,” political scientists Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein worked out a sentence that they knew was going to, among other things, shake up their carefully built reputation for nonpartisan political analysis and scholarship. Here’s the sentence:

“The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier, ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understandings of facts, evidence and science and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Ornstein (a born and raised Minnesota boy) and Mann discussed the book before a packed audience Monday at the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Mann read out the sentence and said he and Ornstein made sure they had backup for every syllable of it.

The book has taken off beyond most political science volumes written by academics and, one might say after Monday’s session, liberated the authors from the burden of worrying whether some particular word they uttered might cost them their nonpartisan credibility.

In fact, they said Monday, the blame for the current dysfunction is not all on one side. But most of it is, and the new reality that what might be called Gingrichian Republicanism has ushered into Washington has to be acknowledged and confronted.

Thomas Mann
Ralph Alswang/Basic BooksThomas Mann

Mann said Newt Gingrich’s breakthrough — developed during his successful 1980s-era campaign to break the hold of Democrats on the House of Representatives — was to adopt rhetoric that separated the two parties into polar opposites that had more than differences of opinion over policy but represented, in Mann’s words, a choice between “good and evil, right and wrong, Americans and others.”

Ornstein, whose presentation Monday waded deep into satire, mocked the journalistic habit of false equivalency/phony balance saying:

“Sometimes you can’t say, ‘There’s the hit-and-run driver and the hit-and-run victim, and they’re both equal.’ They’re not.”

The ideological division that separates the parties is real, Ornstein said, but what’s happening in Congress now is “not like anything we’ve seen. It’s way beyond the ideological divide.”

When you have Republicans filibustering to delay votes on matters that — when they finally do come to a vote — pass unanimously or nearly unanimously, you know that the issue is something more than a disagreement over the bill or the nomination, Ornstein said.

“The level of divide has become tribal, not partisan,” he said. You look at the issues that have come up and positions that prominent figures in politics have taken over a decade and then suddenly abandon those positions and call them horrible things, that shows that’s it not so much about ideology.

“I’ve watched people who, until a few years ago said that a health care mandate was the way to go. [The same people] now say a mandate is obviously, totally unconstitutional and it’s socialist besides. That tells you that it’s not just about ideology. It’s who is promoting an idea, rather than what the ideas are.”

Norman Ornstein
Peter Holden/Basic BooksNorman Ornstein

Translation: If President Obama is for something, Republicans have to be against it, even if it might take them a while to think of some more substantive-sounding reasons to be against it.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale was also on the panel yesterday, although he didn't give a full presentation as the two authors did. When Mondale was asked about the attitude in his old club, the Senate, toward the filibuster, he said when he talks to Democrats about the need to change the rule, they tell him they are worried that the Republicans might capture control of the Senate and then the Democrats will be the ones who need the filibuster to block action.

Ornstein, who is a buddy of Al Franken’s, actually started the event with some stand-up comedy. If you’ve read this far, you deserve to see the jokes:

• “Mitt Romney is deep into his vice presidential search. His spokesman said he would choose an incredibly boring white guy. Joe Biden said, ‘Why not? It worked for Obama.' "

• “But he’s got a lot of options. A couple of weeks ago, he was in Las Vegas with Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump, or as someone called it, ‘The Hangover, Part 3.' "

• “Donald Trump, by the way, had his 70th birthday while he was in Las Vegas. And the first thing he did when he got up was demand to see his own birth certificate.”

• “Gingrich would actually be the best running mate for a balanced ticket. You’d have a Mormon and a polygamist.”

• “Myself I favor Ron Paul, who’s still out there running. Ron Paul, you know, favors legalization of prostitution and legalization of drugs and I just want to be at the victory party.”

• “Actually there’s another balance that’s been mentioned. We have a survey of middle-aged guys. The vast majority think they look like Mitt Romney. They actually look like Newt Gingrich.”

And Ornstein closed his remark with tragicomedy, saying that he and Mann had collaborated on a previous book about Congress called “The Broken Branch.” Their new book is called “It’s Even Worse Than You Think.” Ornstein said: “We don’t want to have to come back in a few years and write a third book that would have to be called ‘Run for Your Lives.’ ”

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Comments (48)

"reputation for nonpartisan political analysis"

That's hilarious.

The sin against the "insurgent outlier" party is to demand a government that operates within its constitutional boundaries and doesn't spend more of the taxpayers' money than it brings in.

If these fellows were really non-partisan political analysts they would recognize and say that. But they're not so they won't.

When you can find

me an example of an "insurgent outlier" party that demands the government operate within its constitutional boundaries and doesn't spend more of the taxpayers' money than it brings in, I might just have to admire it.

Like not paying

For the Iraq war or the Afgan war in the regular budget. That's not only hilarious but deceptive, hypocritical and pathetic.


No, the sins of your party are these:

- Censoring, subverting or burying the findings of scientific research (official policy in the Bush administration); casting scientists, academics and other well educated, intelligent people as untrustworthy, un-American and corrupt; and in general to assault truth and replace it with propaganda.

- Waging a class war against the poor and middle class, transferring an ever greater percentage of the national wealth, and the power that goes with it, into the hands of the few uber-wealthy

- Continually raping the natural environment in pursuit of more wealth.

- Subverting the Supreme Court by making of it an openly political body that stole an election in a bloodless coup d'état and continually sides with the uber-wealthy and corporations against the rights of individuals.

- Inciting members of your party to hate non-members as if they were foreign enemies rather than fellow Americans.

- Inciting open disrespect for the Presidency, and spreading lies about the current president, thus undermining the office.

- Sabotaging Congress by rendering it unable to function.

That's just a partial list.

I congratulate Ornstein and Mann for their candor

Many academics seem blissfully unaware that their leftist sympathies are as painfully obvious as a pimple on a prom queen's forehead. While the sweet release of honesty won't do anything to bolster their credibility, it certainly won't cause any harm.

Thomas,You know that Norm


You know that Norm Ornstein works for the American Enterprise Institute, a limited government think tank, right?

Mann works for brookings, certainly a more liberal bend, but Norm is not exactly a lefty.


If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck....

At the Risk of Sounding "Academic"

"ad hominem" is the phrase used to describe the approach taken by someone who has no rational or factual basis by which to disagree with the argument presented by someone else,...

and who thus feels the reflexive need to dismiss the person presenting that opposing argument by calling them a name and thereby revealing something completely other than they believe themselves to be revealing,...

namely that they lack the intellect or knowledge necessary to counter the opposing point of view and thus, that they really have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to the discussion except to offer the verbal equivalent of sticking out their tongues and blowing a "raspberry."

Those who dismiss, all "academics" as "liberal" or "leftist," reveal only their own ignorance and fulfill the painfully accurate quip so famously offered by Stephen Colbert, "Reality has a liberal bias."

Reality DOESN'T have a liberal bias, of course, it one seems so to those who have cast facts, history and logic aside in favor of tribally-derived, tribally-verified (strictly by echo chamber, self-referential, circular argument), "belief."

How dare anyone say that

How dare anyone say that reflexive opposition and "scorched earth" politics leads to an abyss or impasse.

They must be leftist.

Re: Ideology vs. Tribalism. I

Re: Ideology vs. Tribalism. I would argue that Tribalism is the end result of extreme ideology. The Tribe holds the underlying ideology. Its leaders are willing to sacrifice short-term ideological purity for a strengthening of the Tribe in general. And they're not wrong - if the Tribe stays strong and defeats its enemies it can carry out more of its will over the long term.

Another divide

Yeah, our marriage counselor was really partisan too and took my wife's side instead of being fair and balanced. No wonder our marriage failed!

He should take her side

For your metaphor to hold water, you would have had to have spit out everything she ever cooked for you, never done any housework, pit the kids against each other, and then put your fingers in your ears and sang "la-di-da-di-da, she's evil," at every counseling session. If that was the case, then, sorry, but the relationship was done anyway.

A New Label Norman?

Now that Ornstein has let the cat out of the cellophane bag, it will be interesting to see if his far-left stenographers in the Star-Tribune newsroom label him as a liberal.

What Rob said

I think what we're seeing is extreme ideological praxis. I don't know why these are denying it's ideology? In fact, I think the reference to "tribalism" might even be a little racist, like they're trying to disconnect this purely western political disfunction from western civilization and place it somewhere else. This ideology is white-maleism on steroids, what "tribe" is that derived from?

Tragicomedy Team

The tragicomedy of Swift & Tester's tag-team comments above is that their every dismissive and derisive and divisive word confirms this book's center premise.

And why can't they see it? Because they are simply too deep into their own tribalism.

Of Mr. Tester and Mr. Swift I would ask: Is it even possible that someone who doesn't agree with you -- someone who is not a member of your tribe -- might make a valid point now and again?


Hold your breathe Rick.

I'm a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux

tribe. So what's wrong with that?

It seems to me that people who despise tribalism probably have a problem with non-white people in general.


Mr. Tester, you did not answer my question. (Instead, you took a cheap shot. Nicely played.)

"It seems to me that people

"It seems to me that people who despise tribalism probably have a problem with non-white people in general."

Says the person that continuously rails against "group" rights and "identity" politics.

One thirty-second

Being a 'tribe member' means that you are at least 1/32 Lakota (at least one of your great great grandparents was Lakota).

Still waiting for your reply -- you were the one who brought the topic up so it's a reasonable question.


First, I have to repeat I see nothing "tribal" about Tester and Swift, I won't say what I do see, but it ain't a tribe.

At any rate, Dennis and Tom can take heart in the fact that Beck, Kline, and David Limbaugh all currently have anti Obama/liberal polemics on the NYTs ten best seller lists. Although I think Beck and Limbaugh are bulk buying their own books to get them on the list.

Even if you believe, as I do,

that this apocalyptic, good vs. evil style of politics is terribly corrosive and damaging to a democratic society, you have to acknowledge that it's been a resounding short-term political success for Republicans. The right has been dictating the terms of public debate for almost all my adult life and they continue to do so, regardless of who controls the Congress and the White House. They lost the thread for a brief moment after Obama's election but quickly found their voice in a series of positions that successfully framed efforts to rescue the economy as giveaways to the profligate at the expense of those who played by the rules. The "birther" movement and other baseless charges that get flung around would be inconceivable if Gingrich had not laid the groundwork by promoting the idea that nothing, not even the other side's basic patriotism, can ever be conceded.

This style of politics is particularly appealing when people are afraid---and they're afraid now. They see a tsunami of change coming their way, from globalization to demographics, and many Americans think they'll be the losers in these major shifts. "It's bigger than both of us" isn't a satisfying explanation and many are susceptible to simple solutions that give them a focus for their anxiety.

Republicans continue to be rewarded at the polls and these tactics won't stop until voters cease the positive reinforcement.

Did it ever cross your mind

that perhaps people are voting for Republicans because they believe the Republicans to be correct and the Democrats are wrong?

Two key words


Republicans continue to win because

we continue to win this society's arguments.

You lost on welfare, you lost on national defense, you lost on taxes, you lost on campaign finance reform, you lost on education reform, you lost on universal health care, you lost on public unions, you lost on Austrian versus Keynesian economics, you lost on the nanny state in general and you're going to lose in November.

Because the American people agree with us.

Specious Reasoning

...and there's no possible way that the American people could have been carefully manipulated to believe things which are wrong and clearly run contrary to their own personal interests...

You go on believing that majorities of voters cannot be wrong and I'll go on believing that there's some hope that people will awaken from their fear-induced slumber.

We'll make an interesting pair of dreamers.

Manipulated Voters

"Is it even possible that someone who doesn't agree with you -- someone who is not a member of your tribe -- might" disagree with you for honest reasons? Or do tens of millions of people vote the other way only because they've been manipulated?

Safety In Numbers? That's All You Got?

Once again, it is quite possible that large numbers of people can be wrong about anything. Sheer volume of consensus is meaningless. Is the world flat? Is the moon made of cheese? Did Saddam Hussein have WMDs? May I suggest that you research the lemming?

Or better yet, read "You Are Not So Smart" by David McRaney. It profiles 48 ways in which human reasoning can go awry and how these little ticks of thinking can be and have been manipulated.

But let's get back to the point: I'm willing to consider your ideas. Are you willing to consider mine?

"It's Even Worse Than It Looks" is about the unwillingness of Republicans to consider any ideas which are A) not their own, and B) will not lead to further consolidation of their power. Secondarily, it's about the media's complicitness in allowing bare deceit and manipulation to continue as if the discussion were simply about opinions. (You may say that the sky is plaid, but a functioning media would call you out.)

Honest consideration of ideas will quickly reveal deceit and manipulation when it is present. The techniques of propaganda are well-known and well-documented. I learned them in my small town high school roughly 30 years ago, and can recognize them when I see them.

I believe that we need to have the hard conversations about what government should be doing and how it should be funded. Were that happening, I truly wouldn't care which party was leading or following.

It is not happening, and it cannot happen as long as one party has decided that it will do anything to suppress that conversation.

Big Numbers

If elections are really about voting 'right' or 'wrong' than by definition every big election features tens of millions of people that are voting the wrong way. I never once said that the majority is by definition correct. What I'm saying is that they have come to their voting conclusion through honest methods. In particular I'm saying that people that vote Republican may be making the 'wrong' decision (in your opinion) but it's not because they have been brainwashed. It's because they have different priorities, values and fears than you do.
Am I willing to consider your ideas? Of course I am. But how willing are you to really consider my ideas if you want to chalk them up to propaganda? If you're quick to reach for that as a reason then how much are you really open to a conversation?
I haven't read the book and frankly I think it's unlikely that I will (my time is limited). But take a look at what's happening this week with the upcoming SCOTUS decision on Obamacare. The left is unwilling to take the ideas of the opposition seriously. Their entire approach has been disbelief that anyone could honestly think this expansion of power is problematic. I've seen very little actual grappling with the arguments set forth. That seems like an unwillingness to consider ideas that are A) not their own, and B) leading to a consolidation of power on the Left.


is what the book is about. The full quote would have been perfect on the back cover.


Last time I looked, it was pretty close to 50/50. The fact of that is indicated by the gridlock that exists at local. state and national level.

When winning is losing

“…we continue to win this society's arguments…” says Mr. Tester.

Not entirely true. I believe there’s someone currently living in the White House and working in the Oval Office whose policies, while moderately “Old School” Republican, are nonetheless anathema to zealots like Mr. Tester and Mr. Swift. Criticisms of Mr. Obama from people who call themselves “conservative” have been as plentiful as the raindrops, but so far, while the pathetic still look desperately for some sign that the guy who’s President wasn’t really born in one of the 50 states, there’s been no credible suggestion that Mr. Obama failed to win a majority of both the popular vote and the electoral vote.

One might conclude that losing the election sort of looks like losing the argument. At least for 4 years.

I’m not aware of any significant argument on the issues Mr. Tester helpfully listed for us that has been “lost.” Welfare was reformed by a Democrat. National Defense is a dog whistle – who’s responsible for knocking off Osama Bin Laden? What does “lost on taxes” mean? “Losing” on campaign finance reform means Mr. Tester’s vote doesn’t count nearly as much as that of George Soros or some other well-to-do liberal. Education has been surprisingly resistant to right wing “reform,” as has been chronicled right here on MinnPost. I’m not aware of any losses on “public unions” in Minnesota. The current recession proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Austrian economics is a sham, since the recession is the direct result of “free market” rhetoric put into practice.

Losing on “the nanny state in general” isn’t an argument, or even sophistry, it’s just neener-neener jeering, which suggests that Mr. Tester has nothing intelligible to say about it. Meanwhile, even if the right wing wins the argument, the result will be that Mr. Tester is likely to die sooner and poorer because we still don’t have universal health care.

But beyond all that, even if Mr. Tester is correct that every one of those arguments has been “lost” somehow by people with whom he disagrees, the loss is largely – in some instances totally – due to the argument from the right relying on skillfully applied propaganda illustrated with half-truths and outright lies. That some people believe Michele Bachmann speaks the truth about vaccination, and therefore wins the electoral argument, doesn’t mean that she knows what she’s talking about. Sneering and questioning someone’s value system can sometimes win arguments, but the society is not better off as a result. This isn’t high school debate, and real lives are affected when policies benefit a few at the expense of the many, fly in the face of what science tells us to be true, or deny the equal treatment before the law promised by the 14th Amendment.

I’m still waiting for credible alternatives from folks like Mr. Tester and Mr. Swift to issues like what the society will do with people who have disabilities, how government can perform ANY useful functions without taxes, how democracy survives the purchase of elections, how democracy survives parochial and secular charter schools with religious or fantasy-based curricula, how workers will support their families without a living wage, and how the United States will survive the economic Grand Canyon growing between Mr. Romney’s one percent and everyone else. And so on…

Those issues aside, Eric’s piece merely points out that these two authors, fairly well known and credible among serious thinkers, have reached the conclusion that gridlock in Washington does not serve the public interest, and that the current gridlock is largely – not entirely, but primarily – the result of deliberate decisions on the part of Republicans. Drivel about the evils of the “nanny state” merely exemplify precisely what the authors in question are talking about.


Quite frankly, while I agree with you Ray, you've made Mr. Tester's "argument" a reference, which it does not deserve. No one's lost.

Rather, the statement is actually something both the US and the Nazis used during WWII--propaganda. It's a crafted half truth, or sometimes an outright lie, intended to dishearten the enemy so that they give up.

It's an example of exactly why the book was written. The Republican propaganda is treating anyone who disagrees with them as the enemy. Non-Americans. It's surprisingly effective, even if it is just words. As such, we shouldn't bother analyzing, but instead, simply point out that it's nothing but a way to treat Americans as the enemy.

If I didn't know better (and I'm not certain that I do), I'd say that such actions are intended to start a civil war. Maybe not one with organized armies, but one that creates enough hatred and tension that we don't notice what's really going on. A strategy, such as in a game of chess, that uses pawns to start the war. Some of those pawns, in modern real life, sometimes get urged (and sometimes paid) to spread the propaganda on forums and comment sections.

Credible Alternatives

Your second to last paragraph is something of a masterpiece of its kind.
"I’m still waiting for credible alternatives from folks like Mr. Tester and Mr. Swift to issues like what the society will do with people who have disabilities, how government can perform ANY useful functions without taxes..."
If the GOP wins 400 seats in the House and a filibuster proof majority in the Senate this fall, you would not see any big change in help for people with disabilities nor would you see all taxes somehow removed. I'm surprised you didn't shoehorn in the canard about canning all of the firefighters in there too. The argument today is over *how much* tax should be collected and what the scope of government interference should be. Anything beyond that is a transparent scare tactic.
" democracy survives the purchase of elections..."
In 2008 Obama outspent McCain 3 to 1. Funny how I didn't see any lefty criticism about buying elections then. Right now we're seeing a very loud political conversation where both the general right and general left are very well represented. In fact, you can make the argument that Citizens United has opened up the door to more political talk and more competitive elections. (Obviously, let's check back on this after a few more cycles.)
" democracy survives parochial and secular charter schools with religious or fantasy-based curricula..."
Well, the US had a pretty strong democracy for a long time with openly religious public schools. I don't think that we're in much danger of democracy falling now. In fact, the big question to me is how we can produce responsible citizens in the failing public schools. What does it do to a democracy when students are taught only how they've been screwed over? History doesn't suggest good things.
" workers will support their families without a living wage..."
The problem isn't a lack of a living wage, it's a lack of *jobs*. But I'm sure once we get more regulations for companies to follow, we can fix that right up. And frankly, the insistence that every part time or entry level job be paid well enough that it can support a family isn't helping matters. It kills starter jobs.
"...and how the United States will survive the economic Grand Canyon growing between Mr. Romney’s one percent and everyone else."
Did you know that income inequality peaked back in the late 90's? It fell a bit after the bust and then built itself back up. It has fallen again since the start of the recession. There is no clear path from income inequality and our current economic problems. (On a side note, back in 2004 were you bothered by the very wealthy John Kerry? Or is wealth only a problem when it comes from a Republican candidate?)

Ray, you'd be a lot more convincing if you could argue some of the other issues at hand. How do we get the government budget on a long term sustainable path? How long can we keep goosing the economy with gov't 'surplus'? How do we actually fix things like the housing sector to make it more bubble proof? If you're really worried about money in politics, how do we break the cycle where groups donate to their candidates and then get favorable policies in return? That's one of the big problems with public sector unions, btw. Can we have a national healthcare policy that avoids the big problems in the European versions (mounting expenses, poor service, poor innovation, etc.)?
Got any credible solutions there?

Pure fantasy land?

Govt interference in what? Personal lives? Marriage? Choice? Sexual preference? You just redefine in what govt should be involved in your personal opinion. Other people don't care what you believe in, nor should we.

Your analysis of Citizens United is stupidly off the mark. There is no precedent for the decision whatsoever. The basis is the complete political takeover of a supposedly non-political branch of govt beginning with the decision which crowned Bush. If you seriously think that the federal govt is supportive of the middle class, you are delusional. What makes corporate money in campaigns helpful for the working class. We have already witnessed that the republicans would pay for student loan interest rates by cutting medical insurance and care for the poor.

None of your ilk were ever concerned that the Iraq war, the Afgan war or the prescription drug benefit were never paid for without any tax revenue. Your opinions are simply specious.


It ain't over yet.

Did bin Laden win?

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is that this country has still not recovered from the state of fear we entered with the successful attacks of 9/11. And people in a state of fear become very focused on threats to their own security, often to the exclusion of all else (see Maslow's hierarchy of needs as well as other ideas in this vein).

This state of fear accounted for the unprecedented lack of any significant opposition to the onrush of behaviors and policies under the Bush administration that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier such as the sweeping provisions of the Patriot Act, incredibly intrusive searches by TSA agents at airports, and the astonishing acceptance of torture. This went on pretty much unquestioned until the economy started to tank and Bush started to fall out of favor.

And then something truly awful happened (at least if you're someone who still feels their own sense of security is under threat). Obama was elected President.

I remember that the Tea Party initially got off to a fairly tepid start. Hyped up promises of huge demonstrations would be attended by only a handful of people and many of us laughed them off as a blip on the radar. Which - in hindsight - was a mistake.

Because when FoxNews and the Koch brothers realized the movement was faltering, they boosted the scare tactics and the funding and got them back on their feet. Unfortunately, the timing of this coincided with the health care fight, and I will never forget my astonishment at the level of vitriol these people brought to town hall meeting after town hall meeting - standing up and shouting down legislators, shutting off any other discussion, feeding on their own fear and anger, and regaining the confidence - buoyed by LOTS of coverage from first FoxNews, and eventually the other outlets - that they could make the most outrageous claims in the world, and there would be no fallout.

The fear-mongering continues - started by 9/11 and fed and nurtured by the oligarchs who benefit from it. It's hard to get the attention of people in the grips of such fear. They will feel threatened, and be receptive to voices that reinforce that sense of threat and offer what appear to be very "me first" style solution.

What people in the grips of this kind of fear are NOT going to be able to do very well is expand their horizon and consider the needs or the viewpoints of anyone else. It's a world of "scarce resources" and until "I've got mine", they really don't care if anyone else gets theirs.

I don't know what the way out of this is. I wish I did. But I believe the fear that began on September 11, 2001 is alive and well and influencing the political discourse in this country even to this day.

Actually Dennis has point

The fact is a significant number of American liberals have bought into the conservative agenda over the last 30 years. The problem is that after WWII there has effectively been no "left" on the American political landscape. Democrats have spent decades insisting they are "moderates" NOT liberals for a variety of bad reasons. In the 80s the "new" democrats and the DLC went all in on the neo-liberal agenda. It's worth noting that here on Minnpost there is currently an article about the Democrat who championed the first successful effort to establish charter schools in the US. The charter and home school movements originated as reactions to the desegregation rulings in the 60s. By the 80s "liberals" had so adopted the notion that "markets" were superior to planning that they took the lead in establishing charter schools. By the late 80s you had to look under several rocks before you'd find a Democrat or a liberal who thought the government WAS an answer to anything and by the 90s Clinton and Gore were launching the biggest privatization of government in history with their "reinventing government" plan.

Dennis is right in a sense because without liberal votes the conservative agenda would never have got this far in America. Look at the recent election in Wisconsin, what 20% of Walker's votes came from Democrats? We know that had the recount been allowed to continue in Florida Gore would have won in 2001, but we also know that the reason he didn't win decisively is that he failed to capture Democrats votes. I spent a good chunk of 2007 arguing with liberals about whether or not we were in a recession and how bad it was.

It's not so much that conservative "won" the argument, the problem is liberals failed to show up for the debate. There are overwhelmingly convincing arguments for higher taxes, national health care plans, spending on infrastructure, new energy, abortion rights, equality, public education, labor rights, science education, evidence based policy, and narrower income gaps, yet until very recently there have been no national personalities or voices making these arguments, and there were no Democrats making the case. Even Wellstone was slow to realize that a national health care plan is the only solution to our crises.

By the numbers the population in the US has always been more liberal than the government, almost every advance in civil rights and equality has been extracted form the government by popular demand, or ever revolt. Contemporary liberals are so desperate for someone to vote for that many of them are even looking at Ron Paul because the Democrats are such a huge disappointment.

Frankly American liberals have been behaving stupidly for the 40 years. The cloud on Dennis's horizon is that fact that history hasn't ended yet. It is possible that a "left" will emerge on the American political landscape at some point, and when it does it will sweep away all this nonsense. Right now all we have is the Progressive Caucus, and they couldn't even get a public option into the health care bill.


Over the last few days, there has been a steady drip drip of elected Dems announcing that they won't attend the DNC convention this fall. I don't remember ever hearing of this type of decision from so many (though I'm open to correction). Just think of it, elected members of a political party that don't want to risk being associated with their colleagues. Surely this just proves how ideologically extreme the, um, other party is.
In 2006 the Dems campaigned against Bush and the GOP and their free spending ways. They talked about a culture of corruption and promised to change things if they were in charge. They won big.
In 2008 the Dems campaigned again on competence and scaling back spending. Even after the crisis was in full bloom Obama promised a 'net spending cut'. Again, the Dems won big.
By 2010 a movement had popped up that talked mostly of getting spending under control. The Tea Party talked about balancing budgets. They talked about getting our system on a sustainable path. They pushed the GOP into winning big.
There is a theme here, isn't there? The American people think that government is too big and too expensive. They think that it pushes into too many corners and once it gets there it is more likely to screw things up than it is to really help out. You may disagree with them, you can certainly try to argue them away from this position. What you can't do with any seriousness is suggest that this overlying attitude is in any way 'extreme'.

"Too big and too expensive"

Until, of course, they need something from it. Note the story about Chip Cravacck's (the Tea Party representative from New Minnehampshire) confidence that FEMA will come to the aid of Duluth.

Smaller Government

Smaller government does not equal 'no government'. It really, really doesn't. And libs who don't get that have no business being upset about others not making distinctions between liberalism and socialism. It's like saying that we spend too much on the military and being accused of wanting to disband the armed forces. Any smart person should be able to understand arguments of degree.
I have no problem with the government being in the disaster relief business and yet, somehow, I think that we need to get entitlements under control. There isn't a conflict there.

Arguments of degree

I understand the difference between small and no government. I really, really do. The point I was trying to make is that the perception of wasteful government spending or regulatory excess always comes down to whose ox is being gored. Remember then-Rep. Gerald Ford's definition of government waste as any federal money spent outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan? It's easy to come up with government programs we like in the abstract (disaster relief, environmental protection, homeland security), and then find some rhetorical device to make "Their" program look like the biggest waste of money/threat to liberty in our history.

The example of Rep. Cravaack touting his role in getting FEMA funds for the district he purports to represent is just a symptom. I put it down as the equivalent of tea-partiers demanding that the government keep their hands of their Medicare (incidentally, I know how that can be spun. The truth is, the people with those signs were/are idiots). We can hate all government spending until we find something that benefits us. Rail about government intervention in our lives? That's the ticket to Congress, Chip! Devastating floods in what you may have heard is the biggest city in "your" district? The feds will save us, because that's a "good" program--for now. Wait until we hear of some money giong to someone who doesn't deserve it. THAT will be a different matter.

The sad thing is

that two highly regarded and competent scholars of public policy are reduced to writing a farce because there is no other way to describe our current political predicament. Which seems to prove Karl Marx's dictum about history repeating itself: ". . . first as tragedy, second as farce."


The frustrating thing is that Republicans cannot make arguments on merit, they constantly have to distort history and information in order to sway opinion. While Peder is right in observing that Democrats adopted Republican small government rhetoric, this is the crux of my complaint as well, one has to be very careful about conclusions regarding popular endorsement of "small" government agendas. For one thing, we have not been having "landslide" elections for the past decade, our elections are being won and lost on very narrow margins, hardly a sign of universal and widespread consensus for the Republican agenda.

When the political landscape is this narrowly defined, you're bound to see ambivalence in the electorate. I would point out that Franken, Dayton, and Obama all ran on tax the rich increased government spending platforms and their victories literally stunned Republicans. If Obama and the Democrats had followed through on the agenda in the first two years instead of seeking Republican consent they could have enacted sweeping changes that would have by now yielded enormous and popular results. The problem is moderates don't do big sweeping things, at best you get incrementalism from moderates. Guys like Peder are mistaken in assuming that the Tea Party victories were the result of popular support, rather it frustration and disappointment in the Democrats. Both parties make the mistake of thinking they're political geniuses when they win. In my lifetime I've not seen any political genius, just luck that other side blew themselves up at the right time.


The Franken, Dayton, and Obama victories also stunned a lot of Democrat's as well who would rather have run more "moderate" candidates, yet another indicator of the luke warm nature of the parties liberalism.

The really scary thing about Republican politics

is that the atmosphere they've created seems much like the prelude to our Civil War. Once you have this sort of intractable ideology driving politics and a complete breakdown in decorum in most groups of human beings, the next step is violence. The GOP might have taken Nixon's Southern Strategy just a little too far.

I really think voters have had a snootful and are ready to do what Republicans might find about the same as death: a complete reversal in the House with a filibuster proof Democratic Senate.

They're not going to do too well in state houses, either.

Filibuster shmilibuster

The Democrats shoulda thrown the filibuster rules out and gone nuclear. If they get a majority again that's exactly what they should do. We've been sitting the same perfectly solvable problems for 40 years, it's time to move on.

The MinnPost commenters

Also keep in mind that the few, "usual suspects" who comment and ridicule everything that stands beyond their view are not likely an accurate assessment of the general population (or possibly even MinnPost readership).