It’s Even Worse Than It Looks (?)

This is not my title, but the title of a book I am currently reading minus the question mark at the end. This is a book that was on the New York Times best seller list by Thomas Mann (of the Brookings Institute) and Norman Ornstein (of the American Enterprise Institute). I really do not remember the motivation behind purchasing the book, but it has been a long time since a book has created such a visceral action against written words to the point where I have now twice thrown a book across the room and cursed at it.

Simply reading the introduction sets the stage. Like some self-appointed arbiters of “truth,” the authors make this breath taking observation and conclusion that forms the remainder of the book, opposite views and evidence be damned: “…however awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, 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 understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” As we learn later, it is the Tea Party and their ideology that is the source of the alleged dysfunctional nature of Congress. In short, they take the words of Mitch McConnell regarding the role of the GOP is to make sure Obama is not reelected and use that as evidence that Republicans are simply playing the role of spoiler rather than having the interests of the nation at heart.

They then use the debt ceiling talks of 2011 as evidence and smoking gun to illustrate this GOP strategy at work. For example, they treat the raising of the debt ceiling as a given- the President asks, Congress rubber stamps. In fact, according to Mann and Ornstein, anything a President asks, Congress should just give, especially during an economic crisis. Then to prove the damage that the GOP and the Tea Party wreaked, they argue that the ratings downgrade by Standard and Poor’s is proof positive that evil fiscal conservatives (they call out Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor specifically) will stop at nothing to push their agenda.

Along the way, they look at the alleged roots of dysfunction which they trace to Newt Gingrich in the late 1980s. Of course, there is also the other usual suspects: an out of control conservative Supreme Court led by John Roberts, obscene spending by outside groups although they specifically indict groups founded by Karl Rove and Norm Coleman while glaringly failing even a mention of George Soros or groups like Act Blue, concerted and sinister Republican attempts to disenfranchise minorities (yet no mention whatsoever of ACORN), right wing websites including calling out Redstate’s own Erick Erickson as fanning the flames of polarization, and last but not least, Fox News to the exclusion of evidence that the mainstream media is biased. In fact as concerns this last point, they even have the audacity to state that the mainstream media has maintained objectivity despite all these assaults from the Right. Their suggested solutions will not even be entertained here since they are so ridiculously silly, but I will mention one. They suggest a $15 fine for anyone that fails to vote. In this way, they reason, candidates will drift to the center to garner the vote of independents AND less partisan voters will show up to vote. Then again, they also suggest a national law declaring “Election Day” as the period starting on noon Saturday and ending on noon Sunday.

The reason I am even mentioning this liberal drivel presented as fact is because two recent events seem to cast doubt on what Mann and Ornstein present. Specifically, although I have not read the book yet, a new one by Bob Woodward, “The Price of Politics,” along with a New York Times article by Jodi Kantor seem to rebut the audacious statement in this book that Obama is the centrist candidate that can appeal to moderates in both parties. From what I have read of the Woodward book in the press and after reading the entire Kantor article, neither are Obama-bashing. That is, unlike Mann and Ornstein who obviously set out to bash Republicans and the Tea Party, Woodward and Kantor do not appear to have an agenda. Thus, qualitatively they are better reads.

That is not to say that they paint Obama in a great light. Take for example this statement by Obama made to Eric Cantor shortly after the inauguration: “Elections have consequences, and I won.” Mann and Ornstein read that to mean that Obama has the mandate to legislate as he see fits since he, after all, won the election. Woodward and Kantor see something else in that statement- that Obama starts from the view that because he won, he must necessarily be correct in all things relating to policy and programs, Republicans be damned. In fact, Kantor paints a picture of a President less intent in governing and more intent on winning. That attitude pervades his very being whether it is ramming Obamacare through Congress or winning a White House bowling tournament. It also explains his 104 golf outings- practice makes perfect. This even extends to the debt ceiling talks which Mann uses as a template for what is wrong with Congress. Kantor and Woodward quote Obama as taking Boehner by the arm and explaining that he has amazing powers of persuasion with the American people.

In fact, Obama did have these powers in 2008 when he essentially bamboozled a nation into voting for him. One also has to view that comment made by Obama to Cantor and compare it to a comment Bush made after his 2004 election. Then, in his first news conference after winning reelection, Bush declared that he had a mandate and he was going to use that political capital to push for social security reform. Unfortunately, things like Hurricane Katrina and Harriet Meiers intervened and political capital became a political liability. Bush ended his second term an essential lame duck unable to accomplish much of anything of substance. That same attitude expressed by Obama may just give him his walking papers.

In effect, Mann and Ornstein, if they are not openly endorsing Obama and his policies or casting him as the centrist this country needs (a virtual political messiah), then they are certainly endorsing an imperial presidency. Perhaps this book was written before Obama unilaterally decided not to enforce certain aspects of immigration law or he unilaterally decided not to defend certain hand-picked laws in court, but they actually state at one point that when we dislike a law, the only recourse is to repeal, amend or not fund the law. No one, they argue, can pick and choose among duly enacted laws. They make this proclamation with respect to only Republican Congressional leaders and comments they made, not actual actions. Obama’s actions certainly speak louder than the words of Eric Cantor or John Boehner. Yet, in the world of Mann and Ornstein, all is just right with politics if it is Barack Obama making the proclamation.

Usually when I read a book, I will mark important points with a highlighter or pen, or somehow mark the pages. For example, Alan Greenspan’s “The Age of Turbulence” is marked and beat up beyond recognition. However, I am taking great care not to mark “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” in the hopes of possibly recouping my loss on eBay. What strikes me the most is the obvious audacity and elitism expressed by liberal writers. Because they are members of the Brookings Institute or the American Enterprise Institute, they assume that they are the arbiters of truth. With sweeping declarations like, “We conclude…” or “We find…,” any alternative to their insular rendition of the “truth” is dismissed out of hand. That, quite frankly, is a politically psychological pathology. They- liberals- are guilty of that which they accuse others of. The scary part is that this was a bestseller.

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