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This is the political season. So you can expect to hear a lot of lies, and we do. “The stimulus did not create one single job” (John Boehner). “Barack Obama is the most dangerous president in modern history” (Newt Gingrich). “I was a severely conservative Republican governor” (Mitt Romney).
Whoppers. All three of them. But they are small potatoes compared to the biggest lie of all, the one we hear most often, from almost every politician, pundit, commentator and talk-show host (except this one). You’ve heard it a thousand times: “Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame for today’s gridlock in Congress.”
No, no and no! There is not a shred of evidence to support that statement. But there is a ton of evidence to prove that the truth is just the opposite. We are experiencing the inevitable stalemate that results when Republicans, en bloc, decide to vote against anything President Obama is for, even measures they had previously supported; to refuse to compromise; to pledge their undying allegiance to lobbyist Grover Norquist; and to shut down the government and destroy the economy, rather than give Obama a win on any issue.
Don’t take my word for it. Nobody knows the Hill better than highly respected, independent congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. In their latest book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” they dismiss the notion, spread by so many in the media, that both sides are guilty: “It is traditional that those in the American media intent on showing their lack of bias frequently report to their viewers and readers that both sides are equally guilty of partisan misbehavior. Journalistic traditions notwithstanding, reality is very different.”
As Mann and Ornstein explain, the Republican “never compromise” or “perpetual campaign” approach to governance began in the ’80s with a young bomb thrower from Georgia named Newt Gingrich. But today’s troika of John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell has managed to out-Newt Newt. In 2010, McConnell brazenly admitted: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” When that’s your starting point, you’re not going to get very far.
That attitude has, in fact, led to some bizarre positions held by House and Senate Republicans. In 2011, Cantor decreed that his caucus would provide no emergency disaster-relief funds for New England states ravaged by Hurricane Irene – unless Democrats cut funding for food safety and health research. House Republicans have announced their willingness to let interest rates on student loans double to 6.8 percent on July 1 – unless they get cuts in preventive health-care funding. They also oppose extension of the Violence Against Women Act, which has already been renewed several times, with overwhelming bipartisan support, since its creation in 1994. And they refuse to vote on a highway funding bill, even though it sailed through the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 74-22. None of these should be controversial, partisan issues – and never have been in the past.
Indeed, watching the Senate success of the highway bill makes you yearn for the “the good old days.” This year’s bill was co-sponsored by Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, and California’s Barbara Boxer, perhaps its most liberal. And that’s the way it used to work. In between elections, Republican leaders such as Howard Baker, Bob Dole, Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert or Bob Michel would sit down with Democrats such as Tom Daschle, George Mitchell, Dick Gephardt or Nancy Pelosi and try to fix the problems facing this nation. But no longer. Democrats, starting with President Obama, have shown, over and over, that they’re willing to compromise. Republicans refuse. They’d rather just say no, waiting for the next election to roll around.
Mann and Ornstein point out that two other factors have contributed to today’s gridlock: the emergence of the tea party, which swallowed up yesterday’s Republican Party and sent any moderate Republicans running for the hills, and the impact of Citizens United in unleashing unlimited, and often anonymous, corporate campaign spending and big-daddy super PACs. Who dares to be a Dick Lugar anymore, when Sheldon Adelson could pour $40 million into your tea-party opponent’s campaign?
Wish I could tell you it’s not as bad as it looks. I can’t. It’s even worse than it looks. And it’s not going to get any better soon.