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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Commentator Denial Enables Political Gridlock

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on June 25, 2013.
In his Wonkblog post, “Ross Douthat gets Washington right, then very wrong,” Ezra Klein gets the New York Times columnist right. Douthat argued that the political establishment’s current focus on lower-priority concerns like gun control, immigration and climate change, when the public wants action on jobs and the economy, shows how out-of-touch ‘Washington’ is. Klein explains:

Much of the work here is done by bundling all the relevant players into a disappointing, elitist mass Douthat simply calls “Washington.” It’s “Washington” that’s failing. “Washington” that is not “readying, say, payroll tax relief for working-class families.” “Washington” where “we’re left with the peculiar spectacle of a political class responding to a period of destructive long-term unemployment with an agenda that threatens to help extend that crisis.”

Douthat departs from the “blame Washington” meme long enough to note that “the public’s non-priorities look like the entirety of the White House’s second-term agenda.” It’s a fairly transparent propaganda trick. Blame the entire political system for the paralyzing obstructionism of a faction in congress, while singling out the major player willing to compromise for the common good as somehow responsible for the failure to secure an agreement.
The political system in Washington — not the capitol itself — is broken in places, but not in ways that Douthat is willing to acknowledge. The abuse of the filibuster, for example, is a destructive systemic malady, which must be fixed before a working consensus can be secured. Yet, even this systemic impediment exists because of the Republican Party’s refusal to negotiate in good faith on the priority concerns of jobs and the economy, as well as nearly all other issues.
“Washington” has become a term that conflict-averse and pro-Republican commentators use to delude the public, and in some cases themselves, that GOP obstructionism is not the core problem. Opinion polls indicate that it’s not working all that well. Sure, millions of people parrot silly expressions like “Washington is out of touch.” But when specifically asked which party is more out of touch, in poll after poll more will say it’s the Republicans.
The better conservative columnists and commentators like Will, Brooks and Douthat, will occasionally fault the GOP for lame comments by its leaders and dumb tactical moves. But when it comes to assessing the GOP’s grand strategy of knee-jerk, full-tilt obstructionism to anything significant proposed by the President or Democrats, top conservative commentators shrug it off. They never defend the gridlock strategy directly, but their silence knowingly gives it a free pass. Their party — and America — would be better-served if they opened up the dialogue.

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