May 30, 2003
It's Bush's fault

E. J. Dionne's column appearing in today's Seattle Times takes note of the bitter partisan tone in Washington, and blames it all on George W. Bush.

Yes, that's right. It's all Bush's fault.

Dionne is frustrated because for the first time in 40 years, the Republicans control all three elected portions of the government (the presidency and both chambers of congress), and now they are using their narrow majority (with a good deal of party discipline) to pass their agenda, something that they had never been able to do before without support from conservative Democrats.

One paragraph is particularly amusing:

This is a shock to congressional Democrats, most of whom came to political maturity under the old arrangements that placed a heavy emphasis on comity and the search for the political center. In all the years when progressive interest groups and foundations were attacking partisanship as a dismal force in politics, conservatives such as presidential adviser Karl Rove, antitax activist Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay and, yes, Newt Gingrich, were building a great Republican machine. The new tax bill is a monument to their success.

Oh, yes. Progressive groups such as People for the American Way were above partisanship. Presidential advisors such as Paul Begala and James Carville never attacked the Republicans. Environmental activists were stictly non-partisan, and Democratic party politicians such as Richard Gephardt and Barney Frank never stooped to criticizing GOP initiatives. Please.

Another paragraph has a flash of realization:

One influential Senate Democrat insisted that his party's problem is not the deficiency of its "message " but its lack of a "delivery system." Democrats, he says, are now playing catch-up to Republicans who have created a powerful "echo chamber" for their themes through talk radio, cable television, research institutes and lobbying networks. There is, of course, a phrase that describes what the GOP has done. It's called party-building.

And it's something that the Democratic Party realized long before the GOP. It wasn't until the 1980's that the GOP began using grass-roots lobbying efforts to get their message out. By that time, the Democratic Party had become complacent, and had forgotten how to communicate their message. By the time they had found their voice again, they discovered that much of their message did not appeal to the American people, who were tired of the party's tired, shopworn ideas. Even with their control over the Broadcast TV networks, CNN, MSNBC, the major newspapers, and newsmagazines such as Time and Newsweek, the Democratic party could not convince the average American that they were the party that best represented their views and values.

Dionne fails to point out any of the notably partisan hacks from the left side, such as the coordinated attacks against Charles Pickering, Priscilla Owen, and Miguel Estrada, the repeated attempts to tie Bush to scandals that don't exist (the media spin their wheels for a few days, but they never gain any tractioni because there is no substance to the scandals they are trying to create out of thin air), former Clinton advisors who have become freelance attack dogs (The aforementioned Carville and Begala, and Sidney Blumenthal, among others), and Democratic Party backbenchers and activists who make Tom DeLay look like Suzy Sunshine (Maxine Waters, "Baghdad Jim" McDermott, Charles Schumer, and many more). It's a problem from both sides, but Dionne's blinders prevent him from seeing anything other than GOP misdeeds.

Additionally, Dionne is so eager to bash Bush that he fails to see (or ignores) one of the biggest sources of partisanship—the dysfunctional primary system. Ideologues of both parties are starting to take over the primary process, and for many congressional races, the centrist candidates don't have much of a chance. (Contrast this with presidential races, where the candidates closer to the center are more likely to be nominated). The "moderates" in both parties are much less influential than they were in the past; as they leave office, they are replaced with increasingly partisan ideologues who see little point in working with members of the other party. Until the primary system changes, hyperpartisanship will be the rule, not the exception.

posted on May 30, 2003 04:43 PM


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