I often hear the argument that the current gridlock in Washington is a result of “both sides.” Political discussions with my Republican friends usually start out with their position that, “my side is right the other side is wrong.” All too often their arguments are word-for-word talking point straight from Fox News, like “Obama has failed to lead.” When I point out that their side (the Republicans) have engaged in unprecedented obstruction and political gamesmanship, they usually end up throwing up their hands and saying, “Well both side are a joke, and they are both guilty.” That answer is a cop-out.
I agree that both sides have some responsibility for our current problems. However, the more I learn about the details and history of how the two parties work together, the more I am convinced of the following conclusions:
- Republicans have become much more extreme since the 1970s, while Democrats have stayed about the same. In fact, this is the most extreme Republican Party in history—and the conservative media industrial-complex has helped shift much of the Republican base in the same direction.
- The primary goal of Republicans in congress is to block anything Obama supports, even when it is their own idea or legislation that will help the American people.
- Republican tactics are undemocratic: They are attempting to make it harder for people to vote (voter ID laws, fewer voting locations, etc.); they are redrawing election districts in their favor (as a result, they kept control of congress in spite of receiving fewer votes nationwide); they have used the filibuster at record levels (i.e., as a minority party, they have blocked much of the legislation of the democratically elected majority party); and they push policies that will benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
I will provide evidence and additional detail in support of these conclusion below.
Democrats have not been innocent in the political battles of recent years. Obama has said that he could have reach out more effectively to congressional Republicans during his first two years in office. And Democrats have been almost as bad as Republicans in their close work with lobbyist and acceptance of corporate donations. They have also attempted redistricting (i.e., gerrymandering) in their favor, although not nearly to the level of Republicans.
However, what congressional Republicans have been doing is completely unprecedented. Political scientists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein described today’s Republican Party:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.
In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade (source).
From the very beginning of the Obama administration, as discussed in a Republican strategy meeting on the night of Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Republicans planned to “Show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.” (source; see also: Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, by Robert Draper). In an October 2010 interview with National Journal, Republican senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for Obama to be one-term president.” (Though McConnell later backtracked and said, “I don’t want the president to fail, I want him to change.”)
The decision not to work with Obama was made before he took office, and was meant to make him a one-term president, even if this meant harming the American economy (e.g., unprecedented use of the debt ceiling leading to the U.S. Credit downgrade, blocking bills that would help the economy and create jobs, etc.). It is not surprising that one year after the Republicans took control of congress in 2010, they received the lowest approval ratings in polling history, at just 9%.
The bottom line is that the Republicans are hurting their own party, and even more so they are hurting the country that they claim to love. The problem in Washington is not “both sides.” The problem is an extreme Republican Party that is hellbent on keeping and gaining additional power at any cost. I encourage my Republican friends to be a voice of reason within the Republican Party, rather than being pulled to the fringe where the GOP is currently residing.
See additional detail below.