As Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) gets ready to depart the Senate after four terms, he’s leaving on a predictable note: blaming “both sides” for everything.
Even amid the current meltdown in Washington and the consistent Republican opposition to Mr. Obama, Mr. Lieberman insists on blaming both parties equally in a way that some Democrats say works for him but ignores reality.
“The Republicans will say not only in the fiscal negotiations, but in general, they were constantly bending and willing to compromise, and it’s the Democrats’ fault,” he said. “But the truth is, they’re both right. It’s both their fault.”
That’s not “the truth” at all. To pretend that there should be a pox on both houses, when only one deserves, is to deny reality altogether.
I understand the reflexive establishment posture, which suggests partisan observations are necessarily wrong, but consider recent events: the fiscal talks have broken down because Republicans won’t compromise and accept meaningful concessions; the farm bill and the Violence Against Women Act are stuck because Republicans won’t vote on them; efforts to reduce gun violence face extremely long odds because Republicans are beholden to the NRA; a U.N. treaty on disabilities was killed because Republicans believed extremist conspiracy theories; the process of filling President Obama’s second term cabinet is stalled because of Republican smear campaigns; and another debt-ceiling crisis is underway because Republicans are threatening to hurt Americans on purpose unless Democrats pay a steep ransom.
It’s not “both their fault.” One side is being reasonable; the other side is being nihilistic. One need not be partisan or biased to see what is plainly true.
And yet, there’s Joe Lieberman, who’s in a position to know better, characterizing partisan strife as a “cancer” affecting both sides of the aisle equally. This is more than just annoying – it’s a misguided sentiment that encourages more dysfunction.
I’m reminded once again of this thesis from Thomas Mann and Norm Orstein.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
Keep this in mind, not only when Lieberman whines, but when we see efforts like Starbucks’ “come together” initiative. As Jonathan Cohn explained very well this morning, “Washington doesn’t need two parties that can ‘come together.’ It needs one party to ‘get it together.’”