Richard Lugar’s defeat in the Indiana Republican Senate primary has engendered new interest in a popular theme in the mainstream liberal press about how the current crop of conservative Republicans are the cause of political gridlock. Lugar’s graceless concession speech in which he blasted winner Richard Mourdock’s unwillingness to pay homage at the altar of bipartisanship was straight out of the liberal playbook in which only one side of the ideological divide is to be blamed for the mess in Washington. Lugar’s speech was catnip to liberal pundits like the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal, who had been looking for a news hook to echo an op-ed published last month in the Washington Post by two prominent D.C. think tank establishment figures sounding the same theme. In their April 27 essay, Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein gave a non-partisan gloss to a the highly partisan theme that “Republicans are the problem.”
Though Mann and Ornstein claim this is in part because the new generation of conservative Republicans is less civil than most Democrats, even they don’t really believe that. For every Allen West on the right there is an Alan Grayson or Steve Cohen on the left. And even liberal editors and columnists may have noticed the incivility of some Tea Partiers doesn’t hold a candle to the violence and the attempts to stifle the free speech of others that is the hallmark of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Rather, it is Mann and Ornstein’s thesis that by seeking fundamental reforms of taxes, spending and entitlements, conservatives are breaking the unwritten contract between members of the governing class. By refusing to play ball like the docile Republicans of the past whose guiding philosophy was to offer the public the Democratic platform minus ten percent, today’s conservatives threaten a spirit of bipartisanship that existed largely to support a governing philosophy they disagree with. And that is something for which they cannot be forgiven.
The impasse between the two parties in Washington stems from the fact that the president and the Democratic majority in the Senate were elected in the liberal waves of 2006 and 2008 while the Republican majority in the House came in as a result of the GOP landslide in 2010. These were two different sets of elections driven by completely different ideological trends. If President Obama is re-elected along with a Democratic Congress this year, there will be no need for them to accommodate conservatives. Nor should they if they get the confidence of the electorate. Conversely, if Mitt Romney wins the White House along with fresh Republican majorities in Congress, then the GOP will have the opportunity to govern as it sees fit.
But the Washington establishment seems to determined to cast this conflict as one that is not between two ideological camps vying for the public’s approval but one in which conservatives are inherently wrong because what they desire is genuine change in the system. To liberals, that is radicalism that must be opposed not just because it is wrong but because it is different from the way things are done. And to those who live off that system and support it, that is an unforgivable sin.
The establishment is also uncomfortable with a political alignment in which the two parties are not both amorphous coalitions without any guiding philosophy. Some may regret the way Republicans have become more conservative and Democrats more liberal, but again, there seems to be a double standard at work. It is only when Republicans express disgust with members of their congressional caucuses who seem more interested in making nice with their opponents than in defending conservative principles that words like “purge” are thrown around. As it happens, the GOP is no more radical than the Democrats. They are about to nominate the most moderate of their presidential contenders.
As for working with the other party, the Democrats are in no position to cry foul. They spent the eight years of the George W. Bush administration doing their best to demonize him with respected members of Congress using invective about him and members of the Cabinet that were just as bad as anything the Tea Party says about President Obama.
Let’s also understand there is nothing inherently noble about compromises which merely allow the federal leviathan to go lumbering along sucking the life out of the economy and bringing the nation closer to insolvency. Though sometimes deals must be struck to keep the government open in the case of a hopeless deadlock as was the case last summer with the debt ceiling, it is dishonest of liberals to pretend their insistence on defending the system doesn’t make them as much a part of the problem as their opponents. The only difference between the two sides is that the left assumes it is the right’s job to give in. That is why they are shedding crocodile tears about the exit of weak Republicans like Dick Lugar.