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Six Questions I Asked Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein About Their Book "It's Even Worse than It Looks" on May 18, 2012

  1. I have been telegraphing this question to Norm for a while. It is something I genuinely don’t understand: The Democratic barons of the center—the Lincolns and the Nelsons now, in an earlier day the Sassers, even the Moynihans. People who seemed to think that their proper political and policy strategy was to say “we restrained the Hick from Arkansas or the Hick from Honolulu from doing more liberal things”. That’s a complete disaster as a strategy for your own reelection. You are likely to lose your job. You are likely to lose your majority status. You are likely to lose your chairmanship—which Moynihan felt extremely bitterly—if the president of your party is not perceived to be a big success in his first two years. And yet while someone like Olympia Snow or Susan Collins or even Voinovich, will when the chips are down be a Republican partisan first and a patriot second, this doesn’t seem to hold for the Nelsons, the Lincolns, the Sassers, the Moynihans, the Borens, the Kerreys from Nebraska and a whole bunch of others. What’s going on with them?

  2. It was the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare bill. Romney’s healthcare plan. Something that’s significantly to the right of Olympia Snowe's policy priorities, as demonstrated by her life up to 2008. Why is getting 60 Democratic senators to vote for a Republican health care bill an accomplishment? Wouldn’t an accomplishment have been getting 50 Democratic senators to vote for a Democratic health care bill via reconciliation?

  3. Shouldn’t the Democrats have been organized enough to pass a carbon tax through reconciliation in February of 2009 and then bargain back in the Senate to cap-and-trade?

  4. So is the problem that Daily Kos is not strong enough?

  5. And this ideological small-government dynamic is why all the Republicans voted for unfunded Medicare Part D?

  6. So why aren’t you advocating the rapid destruction of the Republican Party as fast as possible? Why aren’t you telling everyone: “go out and vote Democrat now, for this is your last chance”?

And One Question I Did Not Ask:

A point of view that has not been well-represented here today is that of Markos Moulitsas Zuniga--of Daily Kos. So let me try to channel what Kos would say:

Look. You two are expecting normal politics to rein in a Republican Party gone bonkers extreme. But it will not work. The press corps will continue to say "he said, she said, yadda yadda yadda" either because they are gutless cowards or because they are bought. In a world of low-information voters, the bonkers extremism and sheer total meanness of the Republican Party will not get through. The only way it could get through would be if moderate Republican barons were to announce that they had had enough and were crossing t'he aisle, and if they did so in a way that they brought their affinities with them. But I don't see Brent Scowcroft doing that, I don't see Colin Powell doing that, I don't see Greg Mankiw doing that, I don't see Marty Feldstein doing that, I don't see Gail Wilensky doing that, I don't see Bob Dole doing that, I don't see Jack Danforth doing that, I don't see Richard Lugar doing that--and I don't see you doing that, Mr. Ornstein. I don't see you calling for the defeat of every single Republican candidate this fall and every fall until the party comes back to reality.

And since all of you moderate Republicans are unwilling to take the only step that might fix the situation on your side, we have to take the only step open to us: We have to stop bringing a set of policy proposals and briefing papers to what the Republican Party has made a thermonuclear exchange. We have to oppose their noise, slime, and lie machine with a noise, disinfectant, and truth machine of our own--and at the same intensity.

That means you moderates need to pick a side and fasten your seat belts, rather than wringing your hands about how the Republicans are being so mean, and you wish they would be less so.”

Mr. Mann and Mr. Ornstein, please give me an alternative strategy I can follow to help the non-insane Republicans recapture their party. Please give me an alternative to signing up with Kos. And if you cannot give me an alternative, why are you two not signing up with Kos right now?

The stakes, after all, are high...