Our political system is barely functional. The recently concluded 112th Congress set a record for the lowest number of laws passed since record-keeping began, in 1948. We are in the midst (and at the mercy) of a budget sequester that was intended only to scare Congress into behaving responsibly. Republicans, in thrall to Tea Party fanatics, refuse even to discuss new sources of revenue. Barack Obama, meanwhile, has not only proposed a remarkably impecunious domestic budget but has also broken what has been an iron rule of nearly all Democratic politicians for more than half a century by offering to reduce future Social Security payments through the mechanism of a "chained CPI" that slows down the cost-of-living increases built into the payments received by seniors. Predictably (and understandably), he has infuriated his base by doing so.
How are these diametrically opposed approaches being portrayed in the mainstream media? According to Politico's Jake Sherman, Obama's offer "might have been viewed as a bit more substantive. But [the] Republican leadership's calculus has changed. Since the fiscal cliff tax deal, which raised taxes on families earning more than $450,000, Republicans are demanding more expansive changes to entitlements." The rest of Sherman's report is devoted to detailing the Republican wish list without any sense of the radicalism of these demands, or their consistent unpopularity with real people (as opposed to pundits).
What about Slate's John Dickerson? He blames unnamed "forces of partisanship, ego, and limited imagination that have made crisis budgeting so dreary to watch…. The two parties have not even been in proximity of a major bipartisan deal in so long the very fact that they are in the same neighborhood is a possible sign that our system is not irreparably broken." Meanwhile, in a column called "Reclaim the Center" on the opinion page of The New York Times online, multimillionaire investment banker and Democratic Party funder Steven Rattner complains of "proselyt- izers of wacky, extreme ideas" from "the left," as well as from "conservatives," before demanding that "the sensible center…rise up and push for a rational approach to our fiscal challenges."
Believe me, I'm more annoyed at having to write this column again than you are at reading it. But dammit, nothing changes. The Republican Party has gone off the rails by virtually every available measure, and the media continue to blame "both sides."
Let's look at some data. According to a forthcoming study in the Drake Law Review by Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, we are experiencing "the largest and most uniform gap in the ideological orientation and voting patterns in the Senate and the House of Representatives in modern times." Keith Poole of the University of Georgia and Howard Rosenthal of New York University analyzed decades of data and discovered that Republicans have moved approximately six times as far rightward as Democrats have leftward in recent decades (and the Democratic drift is due almost entirely to the collapse of the Southern conservative wing of the party). The respected pollster Andrew Kohut reports: "In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today," referring to the Nixon landslide against George McGovern in 1972.