Robert Gates Channels His Inner David Broder
Posted by Michael Cohen
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is apparently unhappy that people in Washington can't get along. Last week in a speech at the Atlantic Council honoring Brent Scowcroft he bemoaned the lack of bipartisanship in Washington and the rise in scorched-earth politics.
Civility, mutual respect, putting country before self and country before party, listening to and learning from one another, not pretending to have all the answers and not demonizing those with whom we differ: For all the platitudes to the contrary, these virtues, in this town, are – seem to be increasingly quaint, a historic relic to put on display at the Smithsonian next to Mr. Rogers’ sweater or Julia Child’s kitchen. Zero-sum politics and ideological siege warfare are the new order of the day.
So why is this happening? Says Gates it's a result of "structural changes taking root over several decades" including the gerrymandering of congressional districts "to create safe seats for incumbents of both parties, leading to elected representatives totally beholden to their party’s ideological base," and "wave elections" where each party "seized with ideological zeal and the rightness of their agenda" makes compromise impossible, the decline in congressional powerbrokers and finally "a 24/7 digital media environment that provides a forum and wide dissemination for the most extreme and vitriolic views leading, I believe, to a coarsening and a dumbing-down of our national political discourse."
The result says Gates is that at "just at the time this country needs more continuity, more consensus, and, above all, more compromise to deal with our most serious long-term problems, most of the trends are pointing in the opposite direction."
I read things like this and I really wonder what world Bob Gates has been living in for the past several years. What goes unmentioned in this list of woes is the actual reason for dysfunction in Washington - not some made up fantasy world of equal party malfeasance - the unceasing, historic and unprecedented obstructionism of the modern Republican Party.
Any analysis of the problems in Washington that fails to mention this salient factor in DC dysfunction is not an analysis that should be taken seriously at all. Here's a handy chart that I've pilfered from Kevin Drum, which explains this. Virtually this entire increase in use of the filibuster came during periods when Republicans (the one in red) were in the minority.
If one looks closely one will note that the unprecedented rise in the use of the filibuster has precisely coincided with the control of the Senate by Democrats and the Republican party being in the minority. Keep in mind, this chart is from November and since then Republicans filibustered a bill to maintain the payroll tax and the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the newly created Consumer Protection Bureau . . simply because they don't like the agency.
It is also worth noting that Gates argument claiming gerrymandering is causing polarization in Washington has been regularly disproven by political scientists. Also, it's pretty rich for Bob Gates to be complaining that political parties come into office on political waves and then seek to impose their agendas on the country. I wonder if Gates is familiar with the Democratic president who hired a Republican whose name rhymes with Shmiil Shmates to run the Defense Department. Finally, Gates must have been asleep or otherwise occupied during the many unsuccessful efforts by President Obama to reach out to Republicans on a host of domestic policy issues. This would be familiar to anyone who has been relatively sentient - and living in DC - over the past three years.
There is a simple, not hard to understand explantion for Washington's fundamental dysfunction - Republicans.
Some will say this is a partisan argument. Meh. Pointing out facts is not partisan, particularly since facts have a long history of possessing non-partisan credibility. Moreover, why should this be considered a political argument - Republicans are not exactly hiding from their unprecedented obstructionism. They argue it is a necessary tool to stop Obama and the Democrats. Fine. Under Senate rules that is certainly their right. But let's call this what it is. One party is pretty much single-handedly responsible for the ills that Robert Gates describes about our current political system. For Gates to lump both parties together in this cavalcade of incapacity not only gives Republicans a pass it furthers their agenda to prove to Americans that Washington is a horribly dysfunctional place where nothing can get done. It's a horribly dysfunctional place because Republicans have made it this way.
Why is it so difficult for people to acknowledge this fact?