Up | June 03, 2012
HAYES: Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein , two well-respected scholars known for non-partisan and non-inflammatory analysis, have a new book out blaming Republicans for the country's political dysfunction. It's called, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks : How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics Extremism ." And here's a sample. Quote, "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 ." But going against the conventional wisdom that both sides do it appears to have consequences. Just recently, Ornstein told Greg Sargent of the " Washington Post " that since the book came out on May 1st , none of the Sunday shows have invited them on to discuss their latest work. This is kind of a big deal, because for years, until now, Mann and Ornstein have been staples of the Sunday shows. They're a brand in Washington , the go-to guys when the media need a quote from a political expert. So, I'm very pleased to have them here, doing their first national Sunday news program to discuss the book. Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute . And back at the table is Michelle Bernard , founder, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women , Politics, and Public Policy , and former president of the conservative Independent Women's Forum . Gentlemen , let's talk about the central thesis, which I think is one that people that covered -- I spent a few years in Washington as the Washington editor of " The Nation ," covering the Hill , and it's very apparent if you're covering Washington day by day, but I think poorly understood outside Washington . This idea that we have a constitutional system set up, and we now have norms that have been established, particularly in the Republican Party , that are somehow in tension with that constitutional system. Elaborate what that story is.
THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There really is a huge mismatch now between the kind of political parties we have, which are highly polarized, very strategic and engaging in a permanent campaign against the other. And the set of political institutions under which we have to come to some agreement. That is, we have parliamentary-like parties, but we have a separation of power system, in which majorities can't act. This is made even more troublesome, because one of those political parties has veered off the tracks. They've been aggressively oppositional in every respect. And they have tools, including the filibuster in the Senate , to deny the majority an opportunity to act. And even if they can't defeat it, they can take steps to string it out, to discredit it, to de-legitimize whatever happens, and then they can even take steps to nullify it by refusing to confirm the agency heads that are needed to make the laws work.
HAYES: We've seen that with the CFPB , this Consumer Financial Protection Board , in which Dodd-Frank was passed, it's a duly constituted law. I mean, it's been -- it went through all the constitutional procedures and it's signed into law, and there's been objections from Republicans saying we don't object to the specific individual that you have nominated to head the agency, we object to the existence of the agency, and therefore we will not nominate -- we won't nominate anyone. It doesn't matter. I guess the question is, how high on the list is the filibuster and filibuster abuse in how -- in what's causing the dysfunction?
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, it's certainly a major part of it. And part of what's going on here is this is a very different use of the filibuster than we have ever seen in the history of debate in the Senate . The last several years, it's not a filibuster used on occasion with an issue of great national consequence where a minority feels deeply and intensely about it. It's used routinely even in nominations and on legislation that ultimately passes unanimously, simply as a weapon of obstruction. You're now allowed after a filibuster is broken, 30 hours of debate. Republicans have decided to use all 30 hours. They don't debate, just so they can run out the clock in effect. But it's not the only thing. You know, it's not just the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau . It's the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services , to keep the health law from being implemented. And it's also, I should add, you know, when you look at examples of things that have gone wrong. We had Republicans in the Senate push hard for a commission to deal with the debt problem, a congressionally-constituted commission with more teeth than the Simpson-Bowles one that was ultimately created. In the end, seven original co-sponsors in the Senate of that bill voted against their own bill to preserve a filibuster because they didn't want to give President Obama what would look like a victory.
HAYES: This is one of the key elements of this, I think. So, there is -- there are the institutional problems, the way the filibuster has been exploited.
HAYES: The fact that we have this constitutional system of checks and balances, and not a parliamentary system , which worked when you don't have parties that act in a parliamentary manner. But when you have parties that act in a parliamentary manner, you get this dysfunction, but also this idea that it has become the case that if I am a Republican and a Democrat adopts my position, I by definition can no longer endorse said position.
HAYES: Which makes any kind of compromise impossible. And we've seen it on the individual mandate, which of course emanated from the hallowed halls of conservative think tanks . We saw it on -- we've seen it on climate change. Why is this -- what changed to make this the case?
MANN: It tells you it's more than ideological differences. It's an all-out war. It means as an opposition party , you are prepared to change your position if it will prevent the president of the other party from realizing any kind of victory.
HAYES: But why -- but this is the thing that I never understand when we tell this story. When we try to think about this story.
HAYES: That has always been the case. Why weren't, that those incentives, incentives for total obstruction seem to me always to be the case in politics, right?
MANN: Oh, yes.
HAYES: I mean, you always want to beat the other guy. You want to beat his brains in, if politics ain't bean bag, I mean so why isn't the case -- why hasn't that always been the case? Why haven't former Republican majorities said, oh, you know what, now that you believe in this, we don't any more. Why is that not --
ORNSTEIN: Problem-solving used to be the name of the game . And I can go back to Everett Dirksen , working with Lyndon Johnson to get the Voting Rights Act through, in a way that was not necessarily going to work to the advantage of his party, at least in the short-run. The problem-solving now -- partly it's the era of the permanent campaign -- has taken a back seat to short-term victories.
HAYES: See, that sounds suspiciously like a platitude to me. And I want to dig into that right after we take a break.