Political Animal


June 11, 2012 12:31 PM Elites Who Get It

By Ryan Cooper

One of the more surprising things I’ve noticed recently is impeccably-credentialed elites who basically agree with Chris Hayes’ new book (make sure to catch our review) about the institutional crisis we are facing, and their use of what would normally be called “hysterical” or “unserious” language to describe it. For example, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, of Brookings and AEI respectively, who are usually usually paragons of boring, calm DC consensus, wrote an amazingly blunt op-ed in the Post (based on their similarly blunt book):

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

(In case you’re not familiar with those two, try to imagine Mr. Rogers lambasting corruption on Sesame Street.)

The latest example of this kind of language comes from Richard Posner, an appeals court judge and Chicago law professor with a gold-plated CV:

The institutional structure of the United States is under stress. We might be in dangerous economic straits if the dollar were not the principal international reserve currency and the eurozone in deep fiscal trouble. We have a huge public debt, dangerously neglected infrastructure, a greatly overextended system of criminal punishment, a seeming inability to come to grips with grave environmental problems such as global warming, a very costly but inadequate educational system, unsound immigration policies, an embarrassing obesity epidemic, an excessively costly health care system, a possible rise in structural unemployment, fiscal crises in state and local governments, a screwed-up tax system, a dysfunctional patent system, and growing economic inequality that may soon create serious social tensions.

A notable characteristic of failed states is a bone-deep cynicism about officials, politicians, and institutions. No one in the DRC would say something like Mr. Posner, because everyone knows that of course everything is broken and top leaders are corrupt. An underrated buffer against this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy is incubating a sense of civil responsibility and public virtue, which is surely part of what motivates people like Posner, Mann, and Ornstein to speak up. It’s time for more elites who see what is happening to do the same.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • bluestatedon on June 11, 2012 1:12 PM:

    "It’s time for more elites who see what is happening to do the same."

    Unless and until the so-called mainstream news media suddenly become something other than what they are right now—unfathomably lazy, ignorant, degenerate, and completely addicted to a brainless pursuit of false equivalency—the "elites" can yammer all they want and it won't mean a damn thing.

  • Josef K on June 11, 2012 1:26 PM:

    These trends have been obvious since at least the 1990s, when the Gingrinch Revolution let the otherwise rabid dogs off their leashes. Thankfully there still some intelligent operators on their side to recognize shutting down the government twice wasn't that brilliant an idea.

    This time around? Boehner and McConnell are looking less and less in control of their caucus, who actually seem eager to let the country suffer a Chernobyl-style meltdown. The elite's discomfort with their tea party offspring may well be moot if things come crashing down as thoroughly as these idiots appear committed to.

  • c u n d gulag on June 11, 2012 1:31 PM:

    Thanks for saying what I was about to say.

    Until feckin' idjits like Chuck Todd, Luke Russert, and the Cup O' Schmoe morning zoo crew, come around and talk like this, and their ABC, CBS, PBS, and CNN pals, do the same, SSDD!!!

  • stormskies on June 11, 2012 1:57 PM:

    And let's identify the root cause of it all: our cherished capitalism. That is the real 'god' of this country which leads directly to personal greed that displaces the necessary collective consciousness of any group of people living together called the 'common good'.

    No one is this dim witted country wants to say this at all. And, yet, it's the bottom line fucking truth.

    And the 'media elite' are part of the fucking problems because most of them have made part of that 'media elite' by the corporation who have hired and bought their souls to be part of the 'elite'.

    So, of course, like all corporate employee's they do what they have been hired to do. And relative to corporations bottom line which is all about 'profit' this directly connects to the underlying greed caused by a capitalistic country that then displaces the collective need to focus on the common good, which guarantees the stability and health of a country, to self interest and exclusion of any one who get's in the way of the 'elite' that has been created by capitalism.

    So then of course we here the rabid and insane sloganeering of 'socialist' over and over any time anyone wants to focus on the common good.

    And given the nature of the underlying stupidity of a vast amount of our citizens these same 'elite's' manage to get this stupids to 'vote' against their own self interest relative to the interest of those 'elites'.

    We are indeed the United Stupid America.

    USA ! USA ! USA !

  • T2 on June 11, 2012 2:14 PM:

    one need not venture any further than FOX News to see exactly where the problem affecting the ability of our government to operate at least moderately in a two party system of democracy.
    The next, and probably more important, factor is the obviously politically activist Supreme Court. I notice the Hard Right turn the SC has taken since Roberts and Alito were installed has not gone unnoticed by the general population, with a relatively healthy majority now considering the SC judgements to be political.....naturally everyone can see the slant is to the Right, not the Left. It is my opinion that the general population still does not understand or even know the ramifications of the Citizens United 5/4 decision. But by Nov. 5, they will. It will be interesting to see what excuse is put forward to negate Citizens United in the event Romney and a GOP Senate are voted in. And which side pushes it.

  • Scott Ferguson on June 11, 2012 2:34 PM:

    If I recall correctly, Posner was a Reagan appointee and has been considered a mainstream conservative for many years.
    That he so clearly sees that we have these problems (he lists them nicely) makes him almost radical these days.

  • DAY on June 11, 2012 3:58 PM:

    I remember when TV's had rabbit ears, fancy bikes had THREE speeds, and Esquire was a
    racy magazine.
    Dad took the trolley to work and Mom baked cookies. (Having 'retired' from her wartime
    job at the defense plant, while Dad was fighting the Nips or the Krauts.)

    But, little by little, and day by day, "they" pushed the envelope.
    Playboy begat Hustler and VHF begat UHF, and their grandchild cable replaced the newspaper that landed with a thump on the doorstep. Suddenly two cars were the norm,
    as well as a boat and a camper and a place 'down the shore'.
    And Mom went back to work to help pay for it all. Because Dad took 'early retirement'
    when the plant moved to South Carolina. Which moved to Mexico, which moved to one of those Asian lands he had help make safe for Democracy. And the credit card applications overflowed the mailbox and a second mortgage paid for college and then Robert
    Wagner told us all about a reverse mortgage, because the water was a risin' and we
    can't swim no more, not with the new hip and the Alzheimer's.

    For half a century we have been the frog in the pot of water on the stove.
    And the 1% have been busy distracting us from the rising temperature.

  • Dave H on June 11, 2012 6:55 PM:

    So, people who were fat and happy living in an echo chamber for 40 years don't like the new way things are going.

    People who rode horses for 40 years complained that everything was going to pot because of the automobile.

    Note: It is impossible to obtain a majority and be an "outlier." And if you get the former, you can't be the latter, no matter how much old dinosaurs groan.

    How do we know Obama's election wasn't the real "outlier"? That seems more likely than an entire party that controls the "People's House" and the governments in a majority of states being an "outlier." Maybe the entrenched Beltway culture typified by publications like this and old fogies like Mann and Ornstein is the "outlier" when compared to the rest of the country.

  • John Stuart Mill on June 11, 2012 10:56 PM:

    Uh-huh. The system is "broken" ... so the solution is to BLAME one side and skip some OBVIOUS QUESTIONS:

    1. SO WHAT? A: Because the Government Sector is HUGE
    3. If so, HOW???

    or ... WAIT ... there's another:



    Look ... BIG GOVERNMENT KILLS GROWTH. THAT is our problem.

    PROOF here ... it's VERY simple:

  • c u n d gulag on June 12, 2012 7:59 AM:

    Jeez, who knew John Stuart Mill, the ol' filosofer 'n civil servant, was such a feckin' idjit?

  • BINGOGRINGO on June 12, 2012 10:14 AM:

    Republicans want to drag us back to the fifties.
    Democrats want to drag us back to the sixties!
    NOT much of a choice. If you believe one side is culpable and the other is on the right track, you are a pollyana.
    I am hopeful a NEW style is developing.

  • manapp99 on June 12, 2012 12:34 PM:

    "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics."

    And yet the American people reward them with historic gains in the 2010 elections. It is, after all, supposed to be a government by the people, of the people, for the people and the people seem to like what the insurgent outliers are doing. Elections matter folks, even when you side loses.