Amidst the hard shifts within the Grand Old Party building from the 1994 “Contract With America” midterm victories and culminating with the 2010 Tea Party inspired gains are we bearing witness to the rise of the Norquistian Republicans? Fueled by a massive economic crisis the smoldering flames ignited, spreading with full force through cable commentary networks and across the conservative blogosphere, this new crop of highly conservative Republicans roared into the federal legislature on a mission to wrangle control out of a demonized “big government’s” hands. It seems the old GOP guard is being led by the tail, pulling them into long forgotten realms of extremism. The article here lays open the author’s interpretation of the madness into which the Republican Party has apparently fallen.
Are the Republicans mad?
They are radical, not unhinged, and there is method in the apparent madness
WHAT happens to a two-party political system when one party goes mad? That is the question posed in a powerful and angry new book by two scholars at two respected think-tanks, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. The book’s cheery title is “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” (Basic Books), and its argument is encapsulated in its subtitle: “How the American constitutional system collided with the new politics of extremism”.
The think-tankers’ thesis is that America’s political parties have become as vehemently adversarial as the parties in a parliamentary system. But whereas a parliamentary system allows the majority to rule while the minority bides its time, America’s separation of powers seldom gives one party the power to rule unconstrained. So the emergence of parliamentary-style parties in America is a formula for “wilful obstruction” and gridlock.
This diagnosis has become commonplace since the tea-tainted tide that swept a stroppy Republican majority into the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections of 2010, bringing on said gridlock. Indeed, Messrs Mann and Ornstein spotted the trend in an earlier book about Congress, “The Broken Branch”, in 2006. The added twist now is their claim that 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.”
To put this another way, consider the case of Grover Norquist, the boss of the mighty advocacy group, Americans for Tax Reform, which has enormous influence on the party. He is also flogging a new book, called “Debacle” (Wiley). The debacle he has in mind is not the financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed; it is the response of Barack Obama, which he believes “made things worse” and led to “the worst recovery on record”.
Coming from a man whose professed aim in politics is to cut the federal government down to a size small enough to drown “in a bathtub”, these conclusions are as surprising as rain in April. Norquistian Republicans are happy to plead guilty to the charge of holding “the inherited social and economic policy regime” in contempt. They can hardly wait to tear down an inheritance they blame for a freedom-trampling federal government wallowing in debt. As for the polarisation of the parties, Mr Norquist argues that there is no compromise to be found between a party that wants to go one way and another that wants to go precisely the opposite way.