Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are a pair of centrists who have said what needed to be said in an essay “Admit it. The Republicans are worse“, and their book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, which clearly laid out the extremism of the current Republican Party. The two have continued to speak out on this topic, with Dan Froomkin summarizing some of their recent statements:
Post-mortems of contemporary election coverage typically include regrets about horserace journalism, he-said-she-said stenography, and the lack of enlightening stories about the issues.
But according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.
Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital’s media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
The 2012 campaign further proved their point, they both said in recent interviews. It also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides.
“The mainstream press really has such a difficult time trying to cope with asymmetry between the two parties’ agendas and connections to facts and truth,” said Mann, who has spent nearly three decades as a congressional scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution.
“I saw some journalists struggling to avoid the trap of balance and I knew they were struggling with it — and with their editors,” said Mann. “But in general, I think overall it was a pretty disappointing performance.”
“I can’t recall a campaign where I’ve seen more lying going on — and it wasn’t symmetric,” said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who’s been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, “but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top.”
Lies from Republicans generally and standardbearer Mitt Romney in particular weren’t limited to the occasional TV ads, either; the party’s most central campaign principles — that federal spending doesn’t create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit — willfully disregarded the truth.
“It’s the great unreported big story of American politics,” Ornstein said…
“The argument we’re making is that our politics will never really get better until the Republican Party gets back into the game, instead of playing a new one,” Mann said. “We want a strong, conservative Republican Party — but one with some connection with reality.”
Their critique came not out of ideology, they said, but out of their background as devoted process junkies and honest analysts, who finally realized that their vision of collegial governance wasn’t possible any more, and it was clear why.
Both see the rise of Tea Party influence on the GOP as a major turning point. For Mann, the moment of reckoning came in the summer of 2011. “What flipped me over was the debt ceiling hostage-taking,” Mann said. It was clear then that the Republicans would “do or say anything” to hurt Obama, even if it was overtly bad for the country and false to core Republican values.
While the media did fact check Mitt Romney and the Republicans from time to time, they have failed to clearly report on how extreme the Republicans have become, feeling that objectivity meant giving equal time to the lies of Republicans and far more truthful statements from Democrats without distinguishing between the two. Republicans found that it didn’t matter if they twisted the truth a bit in their direction, as all political parties do, or invent a fictitious narrative with no connection to reality. The media would treat either the same, giving equal time to whatever each party desired to say. The media was never going to expose the fact that Barack Obama did not hold the views which Mitt Romney attributed to him or that virtually everything Romney said about Obama’s record was a lie.
Of course while the mainstream media failed to tell this story, Mann and Ornstein weren’t the only ones telling the story. The blogosphere has been exposing the extremism and dishonesty of the right wing.