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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Whose status quo are they protecting?

by digby

As thrilling as it was to see Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann declare that it's all the Republicans' fault, I have to confess that I don't believe it's quite the Village earthquake everyone seems to think it is. After all, it's not like it's the first time they've made this observation. Here's Ornstein in November of 2003:

[F]aced with a series of tough votes and close margins, Republicans have ignored their own standards and adopted a practice that has in fact become frequent during the Bush presidency, of stretching out the vote when they were losing until they could twist enough arms to prevail. On at least a dozen occasions, they have gone well over the 15 minutes, sometimes up to an hour.

The Medicare prescription drug vote--three hours instead of 15 minutes, hours after a clear majority of the House had signaled its will--was the ugliest and most outrageous breach of standards in the modern history of the House. It was made dramatically worse when the speaker violated the longstanding tradition of the House floor's being off limits to lobbying by outsiders (other than former members) by allowing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson on the floor during the vote to twist arms--another shameful first.

The speaker of the House is the first government official mentioned in the Constitution. The speaker is selected by a vote of the whole House and represents the whole House. Hastert is a good and decent man who loves the House. But when the choice has been put to him, he has too often opted to abandon that role for partisan gain.

Democracy is a fragile web of laws, rules and norms. The norms are just as important to the legitimacy of the system as the rules. Blatant violations of them on a regular basis corrode the system. The ugliness of this one will linger.

That was nine years ago. The Republicans weren't duly chastised then and won't be now.

But what would happen if they were? By that I mean, suppose they all read Mann and Ornstein's bill of indictment and decided that they had gone far enough and it was time to start working with the Democrats again. Can we all see the problem with that? They've moved the so far to the right that they can easily declare a truce tomorrow secure in the knowledge that they've already won.

Here's how Ornstein and Mann characterize today's Democratic Party:

Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.

So, even as the Republicans have moved hard to the right, the Democrats protect the status quo. Which, with each passing year, has moved farther right. Basically, Republicans enact their agenda and it becomes the status quo. Then the Democrats come along and protect what they've done. That becomes the center. At which point the Republicans call the Democrats communists and move even farther right. The Dems are "hardly blameless" alright.

I'll give you a good example of this working in real time:

At the end of March, a version of the Simpson-Bowles plan was given a vote on the House floor. It was annihilated, 382-38, with Pelosi and most Democrats voting against it.

But Pelosi, the day after the vote, said that she could still support the plan if it stuck more closely to the original version put out by Simpson and Bowles. "I felt fully ready to vote for that myself, thought it was not even a controversial thing ... When we had our briefing with our caucus members, people felt pretty ready to vote for it. Until we saw it in print," she said. "It was more a caricature of Simpson Bowles, and that's why it didn't pass. If it were actually Simpson-Bowles, I would have voted for it."

Yet when the Simpson-Bowles plan had been originally unveiled, Pelosi called it "simply unacceptable."

Within the course of just a few months the Democratic minority leader has moved from saying that Simpson-Bowles was beyond the pale to saying that she would have voted for it. It's now the new center.

I'm sure it makes the DC Democrats proud as punch to be the "grown-ups" in the room and be able to look down their noses at the rambunctious Tea Partiers. But the fact is that the Tea Partiers are all that's keeping the government from codifying a "consensus" that up until about five minutes ago existed only as Grover Norquist's wet dream. As far as I'm concerned they have done us a big favor.

I don't know about you, but I think the "status quo" sucks. I take no pride in being a member of a Party that is "reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures" when the entire premise is bullshit. There's enough money. The government simply insists upon allowing millionaires and corporations to escape their responsibilities and we are a global military empire which, as they always do, is sucking the lifeblood out of our polity.

Worried about deficits? Here you go:

When we have adequately addressed our irresponsible tax policies, our obscene military spending and our insane health care system, then I'll be happy to "defend the status quo." Right now the status quo is what's killing us. So before we get all excited about this, it's important to ponder just what will happen if the Republicans decide to take a breather and those who Mann and Ornstein label the Democrats' "extreme wing" try to pull our policies back to what used to be the middle. I think we can all imagine how that will go.