Why Washington Can’t Be Fixed: And is about to get a lot worse.
The politician’s words captured the moment. “This is a historic time … and one side simply has to win out over the other.” It wasn’t Roosevelt describing the need to vanquish the Germans or Bush echoing his call for a “war on terror.” It was Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party favorite who yesterday ended the career of moderate Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary, explaining how he sees his new job. Lugar was the most recent moderate legislator to be shown the exit. But moderates of both parties are disappearing from the Senate and House at a rapid clip. According to Nate Silver, of 27 moderate Republican senators in office in 2007, only six of them—at most—will return to Congress next year. And a new wave of Tea Party-backed candidates are leaving no question about where they stand. As Mourdock told Fox News, “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
In their new book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein offer both an insightful diagnosis of the problem of a broken Washington and a set of proposed solutions. Their diagnosis is mostly right—there’s a mismatch between our form of government and our new, fiercely ideological political parties. But their proposed solutions won’t get us very far thanks to the very pathologies they identify. The cliché is true: Washington is broken. But it’s even worse than Mann and Ornstein say: It can’t be fixed.
Think of the most pressing domestic problem facing the country today. Whether you choose persistent unemployment, the struggling economic recovery, the housing market, health care, the social security fund crisis, or the ballooning national debt, chances are good that there is consensus that the problem is real and that the president, a blue ribbon commission, or someone in Congress already has proposed some solution. And chances are even better that the proposed solution has no realistic chance of being enacted into law.