...and continued with DeLay, only to be refined by Bush and Rove. In this window of reflectiveness, as we take a breath and work for a new Congress, it's worth remembering what brought the extended post-WW II era of bipartisanship to a screeching halt. In this interview about their book, The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, Norm Orenstein and Thomas Mann expound:
Is the current Congress demonstrably more partisan than those in the past? Why does it matter?
MANN: Partisanship particularly increased after the 1994 elections and then the appearance of the first unified Republican government since the 1950s. Now it is tribal warfare. The consequences are deadly serious. Party and ideology routinely trump institutional interests and responsibilities. Regular order -- the set of rules, norms and traditions designed to ensure a fair and transparent process -- was the first casualty. The results: No serious deliberation. No meaningful oversight of the executive. A culture of corruption. And grievously flawed policy formulation and implementation.
Congress has been rocked by the Foley scandal. Was the House GOP leadership's response an example of reflexive partisanship? Are there larger lessons to learn from it?
ORNSTEIN: Part of the response to Foley was undoubtedly human nature -- lawmakers wanting to take Foley at his word that he wouldn't write any more improper e-mails. But it is hard to look at the responses of the collective majority leadership, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, GOP campaign chair Tom Reynolds and Page Board chair John Shimkus, without putting them into a context that makes it more damning. The entire leadership team made sure that there was no significant ethics or lobbying reform in this Congress. They knew their majority was hanging in the balance, that the Duke Cunningham-Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay scandal problem had not coalesced into an electoral catastrophe. The last thing they wanted was another embarrassing scandal. There is a lot to suggest that there was a systematic state of denial here, and an indifference to the possibility of a bigger problem that Foley might represent.
From the impeachment of Bill Clinton (which many R incumbents in the House voted for) to the Hastert policy of only considering bills acceptable to the "majority of the majority", to Frist's considering of the Nuclear Option of changing the rules aboput filibusters, the House and Senate have become a "my party before my Country" institution, and it started in 1994. You'll hear, as I have, "well, if the Dems get in, it'll be just be the same". Actually, no. The Democratic Party, less authoritarian and centralized, isn't capable of doing what the Republicans have done in institutionalizing both corruption (through the K Street project and Abramoff) and discipline (Will Rogers is still correct - we don't belong to an organized party, we're Democrats).
You'll start to hear, I'm sure, Newt nosalgia as he revs up to run for President, especially if the GOP loses the House. Don't be fooled. Newt's legagy is to destroy comity in the name of a GOP majority. It's a lesson Hastert and Frist have learned well, and it's a major reason why neither will be around as leader in January. They'll have to explain why they hate America, but they'll never get a pass from us on the topic of what they did to Congress when they were in office. This is an important topic for those of us as concerned about governance after the election as winning (not something that concerns the current crop of Republicans, apparently). But first, we have to throw the bums out.